Rockaway residents are pushing back against the NYC Parks Department’s decision to handover a concessions contract along the Rockaway Beach Boardwalk to the team behind Brooklyn Bazaar.
The Concessions — which include the burger joint Rippers at Beach 86th, Low Tide Bar at Beach 96th, and an outpost of Venezuelan restaurant Caracas at Beach 106th — were managed by Rockaway Beach Club, which includes the owners of all three establishments.
The group was awarded the contract in 2011 and has subsequently worked to transform the boardwalk into a lively summer destination even in the face of Hurricane Sandy, which devastated the area in October 2012, and more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic. “We basically took the concessions from nothing 10 years ago to where they are now and we would hate to see that change,” says Maribel Araujo, one of the owners of Caracas and a member of the Rockaway Beach Club.
Araujo’s group was awarded an eight-year contract to manage and run the concessions along the boardwalk. That term ended last year, and in November 2019 the parks department issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) to award a new contract. The Rockaway Beach Club applied, along with several other contenders including the Brooklyn Bazaar team — which ran the popular, eponymous Greenpoint event space — and is officially going by Rockaway Beach Bazaar at this location.
The parks department was initially set to announce the winner of the contract in early 2020, according to Araujo, but the decision was pushed back indefinitely due to the pandemic. A spokesperson for the Parks Department says it never committed to a timeframe for the announcement and did so as soon as the department was able to. Regardless, the announcement was made quietly a day before Christmas in the City Record. The Parks Department has confirmed its intention to award a 15-year contract to Rockaway Beach Bazaar, but it’s not entirely a done deal because the decision has to go through a public review process beginning with an online public meeting on January 11.
Araujo says she has nothing against the Brooklyn Bazaar team, but says the Beach Club team is disappointed that it didn’t receive a detailed explanation from the Parks Department for why it wasn’t selected after all the work it had put in over the past decade. She suspects the licensing fees that the Brooklyn Bazaar team has agreed to pay might have played a role. The Parks Department initially declined to provide an explanation for its selection to Eater, but a spokesperson for the agency later clarified that it considers a variety of criteria including the fee offer, proposed capital investment, and operating experience. The spokesperson said the “RFP is a fair and competitive process.”
As part of the contract, Rockaway Beach Bazaar has committed to paying the city $300,000 in annual fees the first year with increases every subsequent year. That’s significantly higher than what the beach club paid the city, according to Gothamist. Belvy Klein and Aaron Broudo, who manage Rockaway Beach Bazaar, said they’re eager to work with the existing vendors and will give them first dibs on their existing locations. Araujo and her co-vendors, however, are concerned about how much rent the Beach Bazaar team will charge, and whether a potential increase in cost will allow them to remain in place.
In an email, Klein said he was waiting on information from the Parks Department to settle on a rent amount, but hopes those numbers will be finalized by the end of this month. Broudo and Klein, who have been running the nearby Riis Park Bazaar concessions since 2015, plan to transform the Beach 97th area into a year-round destination — presently the concession stands located along the boardwalk close for the winter. There are also plans to add up to 20 concessions stands along the boardwalk in the coming years, according to Rockaway Beach Bazaar’s proposal.
Still, many local residents are concerned that the contract has been awarded to outsiders. Many of those involved with Rockaway Beach Club are longtime local residents, Araujo tells Eater. Local resident Sarina Parachini has started an online campaign, including a letter writing campaign to the Parks Department, calling on the city to reverse its decision. Parachini’s Instagram stories are full of users voicing their opposition to the proposal. Many in the neighborhood credit Rockaway Beach Club for revitalizing the community after Hurricane Sandy, and employing several local residents, according to the letter drafted by Parachini. “Losing them would be devastating for our community morale and local economy,” part of the letter reads.
Araujo and others are hopeful that their concerns will be heard at the online meeting at 2:30 p.m. this afternoon. “Every year we open with the same energy and enthusiasm,” says Araujo. “It would be sad to see all of that disappear.”
UPDATE 1/12/21: This article has been updated with additional information from the Parks Department