Coney Island’s Reopening – Transcript
[Amos Wengler playing “Coney Island Opening Day” song]
Amanda Harrington [Narration] 00:34
That’s Amos Wengler. He’s a Coney Island singer/songwriter who grew up in the area. This is him serenading those waiting in line to ride the Cyclone on Coney Island’s opening day.
Amos Wengler 00:46
Oh yeah, yeah. I love Coney Island. It’s like an uplifter, you know, an enhancer. Come to Coney Island and everything just feels good.
Amanda Harrington [Narration] 00:58
This opening day for the 2022 season is different for Coney Island. Because this is the first full reopening since the pandemic. While the vibe of opening day is all about fun, there is anxiety for Coney Island’s small businesses.
This is Adam “Real Man” Rinn. He’s the artistic director at Coney Island USA. They host freak shows by the boardwalk and organize the annual mermaid parade.
Adam Rinn 01:23
We were shut down certainly that first year, that was 2020. Basically, Coney Island was a ghost town. We attempted to open a couple of times and every time we opened, we had one of those breakthrough cases or breakout cases, and we had to close for a period of time. We would open and we would close and open, and at a certain point, we just said the risk isn’t worth the reward. Let’s just shudder, and let’s hope that ‘22 is going to be a significantly better season than ‘21.
Amanda Harrington [Narration] 01:57
When the amusement park opened in 2021, it was only at a third of its normal capacity. Fewer riders in the park mean less business for the shops on the boardwalk. Even prior to the pandemic, the boardwalk businesses were struggling financially. They were facing steep rent increases. Coney Island’s commercial vacancy rate was nearly double the average rate for the rest of the city. Ruby’s has been a boardwalk staple since 1934. But the restaurant has felt the impact of the last two years.
Matthew Sarrel 02:26
I’m Matthew Sarrel, manager of Ruby’s Bar and Grill. It’s been awful. It’s been. I mean, look, the restaurant business has not been good as a whole. You know, obviously, you understand the world is in a different place and you have to abide by those rules. We try to do the best we can. But it’s not a very beneficial thing to a business. You know, numbers have been down significantly. So we’re just we’re trying to grind it out and hopefully get back to where we were, you know, a few years ago.
Amanda Harrington [Narration] 02:53
Coney Island has survived the Great Depression and the economic recession of 2008. So far, the businesses have just barely made it through the pandemic. But things are looking hopeful for this season.
[Archival music plays]
Archival Audio from the 1950’s 03:10
Coney Island, the world’s greatest fun frolic with its beach miles long all peppered with people the place where merriment is king.
Adam Rinn: 03:22
Coney Island was literally the birthplace of American amusement.
Archival Audio from the 1950’s 03:28
Let’s mingle with one million folks. Folks who are just like all of us. Ten hundred thousand youngsters and oldsters all swimming, playing, or resting while getting their share of the sun and the fun. All refugees from the city heat here where the beach meets the cool Atlantic. Here in this great whirlpool of joy. Here for a lark at Coney Island – world’s biggest barrel of fun.
Adam Rinn: 3:52
The hotdog was invented in Coney Island. Grand-scale entertainment, amusement parks all started here. It’s always been this wacky odd place, this fascinating place. It seems as though the odd and unique tend to gravitate to Coney Island.
[Sounds of crowd clapping]
Chuck Schumer: 04:12
Thank you. So folks Coney Island is back. When Coney Island is back, Brooklyn is back. When Brooklyn is back New York is back.
Amanda Harrington [Narration] 04:28
That was Senator Chuck Schumer, one of the many elected officials giving opening remarks.
It’s a beautiful brisk spring day for Coney Island’s re-opening. There are droves of kids eagerly awaiting their turn to ride the cyclone.
[Cyclone roller coaster and children sounds]
Free egg creams are being handed out courtesy of Brooklyn Seltzer. Carnies on stilts roam about. A man on a unicycle rides throughout the crowds.
Congressman Hakeem Jeffries also speaks to the crowd.
Hakeem Jeffries: 04:57
Emerging from the variants that we’ve been fighting through to enjoy each other, enjoy the world’s greatest playground. Enjoy our company, together. And once Diane Savino successfully christen the Coney Island Cyclone.
[Smashing bottle of egg cream sounds]
Amanda Harrington [Narration] 05:27
It is a Coney Island tradition to christen the Cyclone by smashing a bottle of egg cream on the ride.
There’s also an unofficial elected official here today. Here’s Dick Zigun, a Coney Island native. Dick is dressed in a suave top hat and a red “mayor” sash. He’s also holding a large golden key to the city.
Dick Zigun: 05:48
I’m known sometimes and dressed today as the permanently unelected mayor of Coney Island. But I’ve been in the community involved with the arts and promoting Coney Island, the neighborhood I love and live in for 43 years now.
Amanda Harrington [Narration] 06:09
As a lifelong member of the community, Dick knows this season is important for Coney Island’s economic recovery.
Dick Zigun: 06:15
Luna Park itself employs in the summertime, about a thousand neighborhood residents, and then the rest of Coney Island you have several thousand people being employed here. So it’s an economic engine for the neighborhood.
[Pop music from rides plays in background]
Amanda Harrington [Narration] 06:34
Luna Park owner Alessandro Zamperla can barely contain his excitement. For those who don’t know, Luna Park is the name of the actual amusement park that oversees the majority of the rides at Coney Island.
Alessandro Zamperla: 06:47
Opening day! It’s time for fun, time for people to come outdoor. Enjoy amazing attractions. Delicious food and great, you know, the vibe of Coney Island with the sound of the cyclone in the background, so it’s really the perfect place to be.
Amanda Harrington [Narration] 07:01
There are some perks of coming to Coney Island on a 50-degree day. The first 95 riders on the Cyclone get to ride for free. Siblings Miley and Noah eagerly wait their turn.
Amanda [Scene] 07:14
Are you excited to ride the Cyclone?
Yeah, This is our very first time so we’re pretty excited. Yeah, we’ve been going here for the past six years.
Amanda [Scene] 07:24
What’s your favorite thing about Coney Island?
My favorite thing about Coney Island is the rides and the whole beach. I think the beach is like really cool.
[Cyclone rollercoaster sounds]
And the rides are just like um super cool, you know?
Yeah the same for me.
Amanda Harrington [Narration] 07:01
This is Sonia from Borough Park. She’s here at opening day with her daughter.
I don’t go on the rides but my daughter goes on the rides. So I come with her, you know. I stay here and take pictures and that’s it. I don’t go on the rides.
Amanda [Scene] 08:06
What’s your favorite ride?
Sonia’s daughter 08:08
I like the one that turns around, flips over. That one’s a good one.
And this one, I don’t know. People like that one. And for me, it’s a little dangerous, you know?
Amanda [Scene] 08:19
But people like it, so they rather spend the $10 and get on it.
[Guitair music playing from the boardwalk and sounds of a family playing a boardwalk game]
Amanda Harrington [Narration] 08:44
One of the more unique attendees of the day is Jonathan Lyons, a TikTok superstar known for his Buddy the Rat persona. Lyons is dressed in a full rat costume including a rat face mask and tail. As a New York City resident, Lyons shares his love for Coney Island.
Jonathan Lyons: 09:02
Coney Island is a spirit of New York. It was one of the only places where people could go to let loose. We were really uptight society, so it’s always had embracing inclusivity and diversity and just a lot of really good spirit here. And the fact that it’s still around, it’s lasted through economic downturns and now it’s on an uptick. I think New York City deserves to have a proper amusement park.
Amanda Harrington [Narration] 09:26
Despite the difficulties of the past 2 years, Coney Island still remains a special place for Ruby’s bar and grill manager Matthew Sarrel.
Matthew Sarrel: 09:36
You know, people talk about New York being the true melting pot but that’s because they haven’t been to Coney Island yet. Coney Island is the true melting pot of all walks of life and color and shape and size. It’s a beautiful thing. You know, everyone gets along and hangs out. A lot of the world’s problems can disappear out here, whether it’s the calm of the ocean or just the friendliness of the businesses and the people. The boardwalk is like one big family which is nice.