Every summer, the final stop of the Q, D, F, and N subway lines is the destination for thousands of people looking for a good time near the shore. By Labor Day, the park cuts down to weekend-only operation and what was a flood of day-trippers slows to a trickle by October. However, though the park itself may become a near ghost town, the surrounding community finds a way to stay intact and whole when the tourist season and the tourist dollars ends.
One method the local community uses as a bonding activity and as a way to “combat” the daily summer visitors is the annual “Barrels of Fun” day. There are downsides to the summer influx of people, and one of them is the littering that turns the clean beaches and sidewalks into filthy problems for the residents. Marty Markowitz, Brooklyn’s Borough President, is the man behind this annual community event that brings together local school children and families to decorate metal trashcans for the beach and boardwalk. Not only are they talismans that remind visitors of the a local community, but they are also cheap means of beautification that the residents try to maintain throughout the year. One NYPD Community Affairs Officer remarked that this annual event, that takes place on the first Saturday of May, always brings huge crowds and is really looked forward to by children and adults.
Despite the ability to boast of a beautiful boardwalk, roller coasters, and a world-famous Ferris wheel, Coney Island lacks necessities for a stable community. One of these is any sort of small supermarket. There are delis and small stores located notably on Mermaid Avenue, but many locals lament the lack of such a common amenity. This need has grown into a great alternative source of food and community building in the form of community gardens.
Coney Island supports at least three community gardens, as part of a larger project taking place in many neighborhoods in the boroughs. All the soil is donated and the lots were purchased by the New York City Garden Coalition and the GreenBridge Community Garden Alliance(the alliance offers services like school education, aid with garden design and planting, and workshops) Besides that, however, the gardens are completely run by the local residents who grow all sorts of vegetables, from pumpkins to jalapenos pepper, for personal use in family patches. The community garden initiative is especially noteworthy in Coney Island, a neighborhood known for unsightly and unkempt vacant lots. The gardens are a way for the people of Coney Island to take back their free space as an alternative to the planned major development by the Coney Island Development Corporation. One women, an advocate and participant in the community gardens, remarked passionately how important they were to her whole family and that the intended development was a major concern to her and her neighbors.
It would be a misconception to imagine that the people of Coney Island don’t utilize the park or Boardwalk for their own needs. If one talks to the many fisherman casting off of Steeplechase Pier, it is obvious that the majority of them live only blocks away. Like the community gardens, fishing is a way that many in Coney Island feed their families in season. Bluefish, fluke and bass can be caught here, depending on the time of year and one man our reporters spoke to admitted that he often would visit the pier to fish twice a week.
Perhaps one of the best ways to prove that there is a community in Coney Island outside of the theme park, is to look at the buildings and business that are year-round staple of the Community.
Coney Island has over seven schools, including Abraham Lincoln High School and Coney Island Prep. There are multiple churches and Jewish community centers that cater to the locals and a public library. Another interesting facet to the face of Coney Island is the number of medical centers. There is, of course, the Coney Island Hospital but also several rehabilitation centers and private facilities like Sea Crest Care Center and Shorefront Jewish Geriatric Center.
Although there are many chain businesses in Coney Island like Dunkin Dounuts and several pharmacies, many business are privately owned and small. One restaurant, Garguilo’s was established in 1907 and still has a thriving business. This aspect of Coney Island will probably change when the planned development starts, but for now, all of these small businesses are part of the soul of the Coney Island community.