Coney Island/ Brighton Beach/ Sheepshead Bay

How the hell did Coney Island come back from Sandy already?

Coney Island was already open for biz in this March 30 photo. Via NPR.
Coney Island was already open for biz in this March 30 photo. Via NPR.

It’s summer! Well, it was for a sec, now it’s fussily raining or something. But it’s coming, oh yes, after a too-long winter cooped up huddled around Netflix for warmth. This is a good time to remind ourselves, however, that this summer is going to be different than any we’ve had before because of the harsh reality that many of our beaches, and the people who live along them year-round, are forever changed thanks to Hurricane Sandy.

Then there’s Coney which, magically, like how the subways came back sooner than they should, is already up and running again. The Freak Show is still drying out, and other spots won’t return at all, but the rides are back and the vital aorta of the tourist economy is pumping again. How? The answer is in this excellent report from NPR’s Planet Money, (a great podcast that Brokelyn has been remiss in not officially endorsing before). The answer has less to do with government bailout and and more to do with the neighborly support system that got us through this storm in the first place.

The story starts right after the hurricane, when total voice crush Zoe Chace snuck into the Spookorama and ran into one of the Denos, who showed her how everything there looked like a post-apocalyptic movie scene (pieces of zombie heads everywhere, etc). She confesses to a cardinal sin in news reporting: getting emotionally tied up in the story, and prematurely writing Coney’s obit, but we can forgive her and other reporters in her situation, because, of course, no one is pro-hurricane, so it’s natural to root for the humans in this story.

Most of the return was due to an “informal safety net,” aka community support. “You have to have a good reputation,” the podcast says. “You have to be part a good community that’s going to return. It does the same thing that insurance does, to have an informal safety net like this, only faster.”

Deno’s Wonder Wheel park, btw, did not have flood insurance. Fucked if they try to get it now, too. They put a lot on their American Express, and made some upgrades, like swapping the floor of the Spookorama from wood to concrete, with drains too.

Here’s the rub: if they were waiting for the Sandy relief money from the gub’mint, they’d still be waiting, Planet Money reports. In mid-April, almost six months after the storm hit. Meanwhile, poor Seaside Heights doesn’t even have a boardwalk yet.

“We have something here that shows the resilience of New York,” Sen. Chuck Schumer says on the podcast at opening day of the rides a few weeks ago. “Anybody who doubts that New York wouldn’t come back bigger and better and stronger after Sandy, we’ve erased those doubts today.”

Listen to the whole episode (it’s like 20 minutes long, guys). Also subscribe to it. Also, give money to NPR so they can do more reports like this.

The unanswered question here is: did Coney learn any lessons from getting abused by Sandy? Maybe they’re swapping out a wood floor here or there, but most shop owners in the story here seem very set in the notion that there’s not much to do but hope it doesn’t happen again. Maybe some attitudes have changed at least. The episode closes with the Deno, slightly frightened, watching a gaggle of too-many eager teenagers climb into a Wonder Wheel cart. He hesitates, then relents.

“We never tried putting six people in,” he says, “but why not?”

Follow Tim for an accurate count of days left until Actual Summer: @timdonnelly.


  1. Damn right you’ve been remiss in not endorsing P-Money. However, did you say “voice crush Zoe Chace”?? Did you mean in the sense that her voice crushes your eardrums? I guess I could see it if you’re from Chicago and miss the grating accents of your homeland…

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