The subject of my interview was Michael Quinn of Coney Island Tours. I began the interview by asking him a few preliminary questions regarding his history with the company, since there was not much information to be found on the internet. Mr. Quinn is a Brooklyn native who has been working for Coney Island Tours for a few years after he obtained his tour guide license (which involved taking a 150 question exam), and disclosed that for a period after the events of Hurricane Sandy, he gave some tours for free. Last summer, he estimated that he gave 45 tours, and is booked for two tours this summer with 75 students each.
At this point, I transitioned to questions regarding the history and current socioeconomic makeup of Coney Island. When I asked how much the area had changed in the past five or ten years, Mr. Quinn noted that the area had actually changed drastically in only the past two years, creating a comparison to the 1970s, when conditions were bad and crime rates were very high. In the past two years, he said, the city spent a lot of money to develop and make the area more appealing to the common people. I brought up the question of how tourists interact with the locals, and Mr. Quinn revealed that he goes based on how people respond when asked if they want to go to a more local or tourist restaurant, with the difference being the clientele of the restaurant and how they react to the tourists.
I continued on the thread of tourism and asked how the Coney Island Houses (the housing projects of the area) impacted tourism. Mr. Quinn discussed Robert Moses and how he changed the landscape of Coney Island, including the creation of the Coney Island Houses. One thing he said that was very interesting and seems to illustrate many of the points I have been bringing up is, “People must ask themselves, ‘How do they put houses like that on beachfront property?’” He also mentioned that Coney Island seems to come back in historical cycles, and noted that currently, it is the best it has been in his lifetime, and probably since World War II.
I felt it was pertinent to bring up Hurricane Sandy, since it seemed to have an enormous impact on Coney Island and how it functioned, and asked how Sandy has impacted the people who live in Coney Island. He gave me a brief overview of the damage caused, which he said was caused mainly by Gravesend Bay, which is on the other side of Surf Ave. Mr. Quinn mentioned at that point that some of the residents have been heavily affected, mainly with regard to heating and power. He said that people go to community board meetings and still complain about their homes being affected by the aftermath. Something he said that was very interesting and spoke a lot to the dichotomy between the residential and amusement aspects of Coney Island was, “People think that as long as the rollercoasters and the Wonder Wheel are operating, that Coney Island’s back again.”
When I asked him if he could provide any insight as to how people function beyond the boardwalk, Mr. Quinn provided a clarified view of the conditions on the far end of Coney Island and mentioned a recent news story about a resident of the Coney Island Houses who was bored and set fire to a mattress, causing a police officer to be killed in the aftermath. He used the story to illustrate the need for community programs and support that would help the low income residents and youth who do not have opportunities and reside in Coney Island. I segued from that question into a question about how Coney Island and the Brightons interact, and Mr. Quinn highlighted the difference between Little Odessa and the tourist-centered Coney Island, in terms of who lives in those areas and how those areas are aligned with their purposes. From there, I asked about how Seagate compared to Coney Island, and Mr. Quinn responded by outlining a dichotomy—the affluent Seagate co-op versus the more mundane, forgotten residential area of Coney Island.
Following that, I questioned how franchises affect tourism and small businesses, to which Mr. Quinn replied by saying that franchises and small businesses are really subject to what the people want. While some people may be upset over big business taking over in Coney Island, Mr. Quinn said that at the same time, it helps develop the area—but if you could create an equal balance between big and small business owners, it could work because it provides something for everyone. Since I was asking about development questions, it only made sense to inquire about how the newly reconstructed pier has affected the area. Mr. Quinn related the history of the pier, noting its fragility and how it has continued to be rebuilt over the years—at one point, the pier had been used to dock ferries, and the latest reconstruction of the pier has set up one of its sides without a railing, leaving room for the public to wonder if the pier would once again host a ferry.
To finish up the development questions, I inquired about how Luna Park has altered the landscape or peopling of Coney Island. Mr. Quinn gave me a brief history about Luna Park and how it transitioned from Sea Lion Park to the original Luna Park to Steeplechase Park to Astroland and back to the new Luna Park, which was built over where Astroland used to be. The park itself has recently changed the landscape by bringing in more families and more appealing rides and cleaning up the area substantially. I thought that was a good place to end the interview off, as we brought the history of Coney Island back to the present.