Screams return to the rides at Coney Island Amusement Park: NPR
Visitors exit the Wonder Wheel after the Coney Island amusement parks reopen on Friday. John Minchillo / AP Hide caption
John Minchillo / AP
John Minchillo / AP
The eccentric orchestra of Coney Island is back: roller coaster cars tick, up, up and tumble and then turn on winding tracks. Runs humming, humming and creaking to the rhythm of the carnival music.
After a year of closure due to the pandemic, Coney Island’s two amusement parks, Luna Park and Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, reopened – at a third of their normal capacity.
At Deno, children and adults compete against each other to see who can squirt water into a clown’s mouth the fastest – and to pop a balloon like a blast.
Emily Dobbins, 10, says this is her first time at an amusement park since summer 2019. Her favorite ride is the legendary Wonder Wheel. It’s a 15-story Ferris wheel – but some of its carts stand still and others shake and sway. She always takes the shaking cart and loves the view from the drive.
“I can actually see the whole amusement park and it’s really beautiful,” says Emily.
The wonder wheel was actually built during the 1918 pandemic.
“It’s what makes us who we are. We are the family that runs the Wonder Wheel,” says DJ Vourderis. His family has owned and operated Deno’s amusement park since it opened over a century ago.
Vourderis has been concerned about losing his family’s identity and closing down for good – he says Deno’s made virtually no money over the past year.
“The financial hole we are in is deep. And we have creditors knocking on the door,” he says.
In Coney Island, the amusement parks and local businesses depend on each other – no visitors to the parks in the past year meant less revenue for nearby businesses.
Haim Haddad, who owns the Coney Island Beach Shop, believes the reopened amusement parks will bring more business than last spring and summer. Camille Petersen hide the caption
Haim Haddad owns the Coney Island Beach Shop a few blocks from Deno’s.
He usually has up to seven employees. “I only had one employee last season,” he says.
Haddad says the parks will bring more customers to his store, especially when the weather is good. He’s still not expecting the kind of sales he saw earlier, just better numbers than spring and summer 2020.
At Coney Island Brewery, Victoria Pitula, the assistant manager, says she’s already seeing more traffic and visitors.
Pitula has lived in Coney Island her entire life and says when the amusement park rides are open they give the whole neighborhood a joyous, engrossing energy.
“Just seeing her brought tears to my eyes. As you can see, the lightning bolt is right behind us and we hear it passing by and the screams of people. That gives us energy here,” she says.
Outside the Thunderbolt roller coaster, Gerald White watches as the riders are strapped into place. He says his stomach is too weak for most of the trips, but he’s got classic Coney Island food.
“I had some frog legs and some raw clams and a corona,” he says.
White came to Coney Island a lot as a kid and wanted to cheer for the parks. He says the amount is small compared to normal, but that’s probably a good thing for now.