By Christopher Alessi
Despite the cold wind and rain on this dreary off-season day in Coney Island, Peter Agrapides, Jr., owner of Williams Candy shop on Surf Avenue, was in high spirits this morning. Like other small business owners in the area, he was thrilled to learn that the city yesterday had finally won the bid to purchase seven acres of land in the neighborhood’s amusement district.
“Bloomberg is better for the amusement,” said Agrapides of the $95.6 million purchase from Thor Equities, a real estate development firm run by Joseph J. Sitt. “Thor wanted to change everything and remake [the amusement district] with condos,” he said, explaining that Sitt’s housing development plan for the boardwalk area could have caused his business to go under by reducing the influx of tourists.
Agrapides, whose family has owned Williams Candy since 1982, says he was pleased with the Mayor for reassuring local merchants that their businesses would remain intact. The mayor has visited the candy shop many times in the last year. “He said, ‘Don’t worry Peter,’” recalled Agrapides of Bloomberg’s last visit to the shop. To show his gratitude, Agrapides made a special batch of candy apples that he delivered to the mayor’s reelection campaign.
Around the corner, Maya Haddad, the owner of the Coney Island Beach Shop on Stillwell Avenue, was equally pleased. “I think the city will be a really good landlord because they will take into consideration the needs of the community,” she said. Although the city will not be purchasing Haddad’s storefront “many more people will come here,” she said, “which will be good for business.”
Along the boardwalk, most long-time residents of the neighborhood expressed their satisfaction with the deal. “This is a great thing because it is like garbage now,” said Elizabeth, a Russian immigrant and 16-year veteran of Coney Island, as she strolled along the deteriorating, trash-laden boardwalk with her husband.
But others remained skeptical of the city’s motives. “They’re trying to get us to move, they’re trying to get rid of the old people,” said Catherine Pride, who has lived in Coney Island for the past 30 years. Pride, though, acknowledged that the city’s project would benefit the neighborhood in the long run. “I’m just trying to keep my apartment,” she said as she boarded a northbound bus on Stillwell Avenue.