Employees angry over Coney Island Lunch closure; locals looking at future of downtown
JOHNSTOWN -- The iconic Coney Island Lunch restaurant in Johnstown is closed for good. And employees and the community are still in shock.
Coney Island has been around for 101 years. It's a destination for out of towners and a staple for locals.
But employees say they were blindsided by the news, going to bed with a job and waking up Sunday morning without one.
The signs went up early Sunday morning telling customers and employees the restaurant was closed for good.
"It's not just the job you're going to miss. It's the customers, you know. The people who you touched," said former employee Brenda Shaffer.
"The workers there, they were like family to me,” said former customer Kenneth Phillippi. “Every time I walked in there it was always a “Hi, how you doing?’"
Shaffer worked behind the counter for 10 years. She said she got a schedule for this week when she worked on Saturday.
"Woke up Sunday morning to a text message saying that Coney Island was closed,” Shaffer said. “That's what I woke up to. And that's how I found out."
It’s the first time she's been without a job in 10 years.
"I filed for unemployment and everything else, but this has been a staple in our lives for 10, 12 years,” Shaffer said. “This is what we've known as home."
Shaffer said she's angry because there was no notice.
"Why? After all the years of service that you gave to this place and this is the thanks we get,” said Shaffer, pointing to the closed signs on the front door. “And I think we deserve more than that."
After rumors were floating around town the past few months, she said she was tired of people asking if they were closing.
"I thought it was just a false rumor, but obviously it's not,” Shaffer said. “I'm the one that put the sign up on the counter, 'We are not closing.'"
The impact of the closing spans far beyond the employees and the four walls of Coney Island.
Phillippi worries about businesses leaving the downtown area.
"Over the last two years, they're shutting down. They're closing up. I really don't know what to make of it,” Phillipi said. “I don't understand why."
"You've got the old Johnstown views, versus the new Johnstown views, said Artie Lightfoot. “And as long as these views keep fighting, no one’s going to have a view because the city's always going to remain blinded to being able to be productive."
Lightfoot is a manager at Boost Mobile in Central Park. And he remembers a thriving area 20 years ago.
"The only thing you got now is enough for people who work to go to lunch and if you want to come down here, you want a sub or a cellphone, come downtown Johnstown," Lightfoot said.
He hopes for a new energy and more jobs. He said it's sad to see a landmark like Coney Island go, but he hopes the city can move forward.
"We love the J. You know, Johnstown strong,” Lightfoot said. “If I had a muscle I'd pull a muscle but we Johnstown strong."
We did hear from the Contacos family Monday night. They said they'll be releasing a statement in the next few days.
All we know right now is employees can pick up their final paychecks Wednesday morning.