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‘Freak’ out! Boardwalk stalwarts in crosshairs

The owner of the popular “Shoot the Freak” game on the Boardwalk in Coney Island is in the crosshairs of his new landlord, who is demanding that he and 10 other key businesses justify their existence lest they be shut down before next summer.

Beachfront proprietors’ nerves were frayed this week when Central Amusement International, the operator of Luna Park and the new landlord of the 11 businesses on the Reigelmann Boardwalk between West 10th Street and Stillwell Avenue, sent an ominously worded letter asking whether such stalwarts could truly be successful in the “new” Coney.

“What will make your business successful?” the July 27 letter asked. “How will the business be marketed?”

The letter also asked owners to submit a business plan attesting to their profitability and marketability in the new Coney Island.

Then came the most-foreboding sentence: “Failure to submit a plan will be considered as an expression that you are not interested in renewing your license.”

That set one business owner off.

“I felt it was out of line, like they were strong-arming me,” said Anthony Berlingieri, the owner of “Freak” and Beer Island — two businesses that Central Amusements targeted. “How are you going to ask me to explain this in my busy season, when I’m working seven days a week, 14 hours a day?” he asked.

Berlingieri also took offense to its inference that his businesses weren’t “successful.”

“What is considered ‘successful?’ How about being in business for 10, 20 or even 60 years?” he said.

A representative of Luna Park, whose lease with the city to control the concessions runs through 2020, won’t say exactly what they envision for the Boardwalk in the near future, but confirmed that changes are on the way.

“All who care about Coney Island will soon have more good news to cheer about on the Boardwalk,” said spokesman Tom Corsillo.

But Corsillo told our sister publication, the New York Post — which first reported the existence of the letter — that Luna Park “isn’t intending to clear house” next summer.

Late last year, controversial developer Joe Sitt sold the majority of his property along the Coney Island waterfront to the city for $95.6 million, paving the way for Central Amusements to take over as landlord of the Boardwalk stalwarts, including Ruby’s Bar, Cha Cha’s, Paul’s Daughter, and Lola Star Boutique.

When the deal was struck, Berlingieri had many of the same concerns, and asked Mayor Bloomberg point blank, “Is there a place for us?” referring to his and other Boardwalk stalwarts.

Despite some fear on the Boardwalk, other business owners saw the letter as an opportunity to obtain something previous landlords, like Sitt, refused to give them: a long-term lease.

“I was just happy it wasn’t an eviction notice,” said Dianna Carlin, the owner of Lola Star, who famously tangled with Sitt. “They want to make sure businesses have legitimate plans to grow.”

That assurance is something Berlingieri would also appreciate.

“If they’re going to keep us here, then the letter isn’t an issue,” he said. “The issue is whether we’re staying or not.”

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