For Coney Island residents, the amusement district’s Apr. 13 season opening will usher in plenty of sun, sand, and, hopefully for many, summer paychecks.
There is anticipation for the new season, which will bring hundreds of seasonal jobs associated with the yearly surge of visitors to the neighborhood’s famed rollercoasters and beach boardwalk. Local organizations, elected officials and employers have joined to connect some of the area’s 50,000 local residents with these seasonal positions.
In early March, hundreds of people lined up at MCU Park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones, for a massive job fair. Hopefuls were able to present their resumes and interview with several employers, including Nathan’s Famous, Luna Park and Deno’s Wonder Wheel.
Local nonprofit organization, Alliance for Coney Island, partnered with Workforce 1 and the NYC Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) to host the two-day event.
“The great thing about Coney Island is that it’s not just an amusement district. It’s a residential community.” says Johanna Zaki, director of operations at the Alliance. “And it just seemed mutually benefitting to residents that when jobs become available each summer, they are available to the people who actually live here.”
Zaki estimates there will be 1,000 full-time seasonal positions filled this summer, slightly more than 800 last summer, thanks to the opening of the new Thunderbolt rollercoaster this summer and other businesses like Rita’s Italian Ice. Open positions range from ride and game operators, to cooks, engineers, and first aid assistants and EMTs.
The Alliance used Facebook and Twitter, flyers, as well as local groups, like New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) associations, to encourage resident sign ups. At the first screenings in early March, more than 1,500 applicants were screened for 600 positions. This is the fifth year the Alliance has hosted these job fairs.
There were 3 million visitors to the Coney Island amusement district in the 2013 season, according to NYCEDC. The wave of visitors means big activity for local businesses, which provides a boost to the local economy, not just in revenue, but also local hires.
The jobs provide a welcome, albeit temporary, boost to the neighborhood beyond the boardwalk and the borders of the amusement district, where the median income is just under $30,000 and the unemployment rate was 12.8 percent in 2012, in the most recent numbers available to the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy.
The unemployment rate in New York State was 7.3 percent and 8.7 percent in Brooklyn in January of this year.
Managers of the Coney Island sites of Grimaldi’s Pizzeria and Applebee’s both said they expected to dramatically increase staff to accommodate increased business this summer. Yuwah Wong, kitchen manager at Applebee’s, says he expects the restaurant to hire almost 90 new people doing “everything,” from servers and hostesses to bartenders and line cooks. Though they field applications from throughout the city, he said the preference is for local employees, because the distance to work is easier for them.
Dennis Vourderis, co-owner of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park and chairperson of the Alliance of Coney Island, agrees that one practical benefit of hiring locally is employees can get to work easier.
“It’s convenient for them but it’s also great for us. Most of my employees walk here along the boardwalk, walking 15 minutes,” he said.
Working in your neighborhood provides a sense of pride, Vourderis says, and helps customer service.
“It’s good for locals [to be working] because they know Coney Island like the back of their hand,” he said. “So when customers ask them questions, they can answer them without even thinking about it.”
Vourderis says Deno’s has hired locally for years but says these job fairs are important for letting residents know they can play a role in the area’s resurgence. Years ago, Coney Island wasn’t as active—“we were forgotten out here,” he says—and amusement parks hit a hiring lull.
Since the Coney Island Revitalization Plan was adopted by the City Council in 2009, the amusement district has been on the rise. Luna Park arrived in 2010, boosting area attendance, and weeks ago, developers broke ground on the Thunderbolt rollercoaster. The ride, which costs $10 million to build, is set to open in May.
Vourderis said Deno’s had already hired 40 people at the March screening event.
“We’re supporting the community that we do business in,” he said. “We have to co-exist together, so they should get first shot. I mean, they live right next to the amusement district.”
The job screenings help young and old Coney residents alike, Zaki said. It’s not just recent high school graduate and college students applying. There are semi-retired and retired applicants, and those regularly employed in the fall and spring looking for a part-time summer gig. The final makeup of the summer workforce will be finalized after hiring concludes in May.
With the season opening fast approaching, Vourderis does not want local residents to miss out on any opportunities.
“The beach and the boardwalk are thriving on so many avenues, so we’re hiring,” he said. “There is plenty of room here!”