A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeye's fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from June 30, 2019
Nickel Empire (Coney Island)

Coney Island, the entertainment resort located in Brooklyn, was dubbed the “Nickel Empire” in the 1930s and 1940s for several reasons. New York City’s subway (of which Coney Island had access) had a fare of five cents from 1904 to 1948. Many of the amusements charged a nickel. Nathan’s Famous hot dogs originally cost a nickel each. Coney Island visitors came there with lots of nickels.

“The nickel empire reached its peak during the middle 1920’s. It has been declining ever since” was printed in the Kansas City (MO) Star on July 31, 1938, in a story from Fortune magazine. “Nickel Empire” by Henry R. Lieberman was an article printed in the New York (NY) Times on July 16, 1939. The book Sodom by the Sea: An Affectionate History of Coney Island (1941) by Oliver Pilat and Jo Ranson has a chapter titled “Nickel Empire.”

The “Nickel Empire” term is of historical interest today—when prices are more than a nickel.


Wikipedia: Coney Island
Coney Island is a residential and commercial neighborhood and entertainment area in the southwestern part of the borough of Brooklyn in New York City. The neighborhood is bounded by Sea Gate to its west, Brighton Beach and Manhattan Beach to its east, Lower New York Bay to the south, and Gravesend to the north. Coney Island was formerly the westernmost of the Outer Barrier islands on the southern shore of Long Island, but in the early 20th century it became a peninsula, connected to the rest of Long Island by land fill.

Coney Island’s name comes from colonial Dutch “Conyne Eylandt” which translates as “Rabbit Island”. It was originally part of the colonial town of Gravesend. By the mid-19th century, Coney Island became a seaside resort, and by the late 19th century, amusement parks were also built at the location. The attractions reached a historical peak during the first half of the 20th century. However, they declined in popularity after World War II, and following years of neglect, several structures were torn down.

Wikipedia: New York City Transit fares
From the inauguration of IRT subway services in 1904 until the unified system of 1948 (including predecessor BMT and IND subway services), the fare for a ride on the subway of any length was 5 cents ($.05 in 1904 equivalent to $1.39 in 2018; $.05 in 1948 equivalent to $0.52 in 2018). On July 1, 1948, the fare was increased to 10 cents (equivalent to $1.04 in 2018), and since then has steadily risen.

31 July 1938, Kansas City (MO) Star, pg. 3G, col. 1:
IT’S HOT, NOISY AND DIRTY
But A 5-Cent Heaven To Thousands

Coney Island, the 22 million dollar empire of nickels, is surveyed by Fortune Magazine—Every Sunday the beach and amusement park are filled with New Yorkers accustomed to wringing the maximum dividends of pleasure from small change investments.
(...) (Col. 6—ed.)
The nickel empire reached its peak during the middle 1920’s. It has been declining ever since.
(...) (Col. 7—ed.)
But whatever the causers of the decline may be and however serious it may seem at the moment, it is probably a mistake to sell the nickel empire short.

7 June 1939, Variety, “Coney Isle, Greatest Nickel Show, Brags It’s Outdrawing N. Y. Fair” by Jo Randon, pg. 47, col. 3:
Brooklyn, June 6.
Greatest nickel empire in the world, Coney Island, took down its shutters last week, daubed Surf avenue, boardwalk and Bowery with two new coats of enamel and hung out a shingle reading, ‘Sweat in Flushing, Swim in Coney,’ ...

16 July 1939, New York (NY) Times, magazine sec., pg. 8, col. 1:
NICKEL EMPIRE
Coney Island, “Amusement Capital of the World,” looks to the Fair for new business, but fears a too thorough streamlining.

By HENRY R. LIEBERMAN

Google Books
Collier’s
Volume 106
1940
Pg. ?:
Nickel Empire
By C. M. Black
Every summer millions of dollars pour into gay, noisy Coney Island, the biggest, gaudiest amusement park in the world, where it’s fun to be fooled and a nickel is money.

Google Books
Sodom by the Sea:
An Affectionate History of Coney Island

By Oliver Pilat and Jo Ranson
Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran & Company
1941
Pg. 237:
Chapter VIII Nickel Empire
No Museum of Public Entertainment, however excellent, could quite indicate the difference in Coney Island before and after 1920, when extension of the subway brought the resort within five-cent reach of a metropolis of seven million persons.

28 July 1941, Mason City (IA) Globe-Gazette, “Air Ya Listenin?,” pg. 2, col. 4:
Coney Island
Jo Ranson, radio editor of the Brooklyn Eagle, and Oliver Pilat of the New York Post, talk about “Coney Island, the Nickel Empire,” when they appear Tuesday on the KGLO-CBS show, “America in Transition,” from 1:45 to 1:55 p.m.

Google Books
Good Old Coney Island, a Sentimental Journey Into the Past:
The Most Rambunctious, Scandalous, Rapscallion, Splendiferous, Pugnacious, Spectacular, Illustrious, Prodigious, Frolicsome Island on Earth

By Edo McCullough
New York, NY: Charles Scribner
1957
Pg. 318:
These were the citizens of the nickel empire; and while the attractions at Steeplechase could never be offered them for a nickel there was a danger, unless their attention could somehow be attracted, they might continue so preoccupied with coupling or changing diapers on the beach that they would never realize those attractions were close at hand.

OCLC WorldCat record
The nickel empire : Coney Island and the creation of urban seaside resorts in the United States
Author: Stephen F Weinstein
Publisher: 1984.
Dissertation: Ph. D. Columbia University 1984
Edition/Format: Thesis/dissertation : Thesis/dissertation : Manuscript Archival Material : English

OCLC WorldCat record
How we got to Coney Island : the development of mass transportation in Brooklyn and Kings County
Author: Brian J Cudahy
Publisher: New York : Fordham University Press, 2002.
Edition/Format: Print book : English
Summary:
“Coney Island is the most famous seaside resort the world had ever known. Its amusements have been a magical attraction for millions of New Yorkers, and are only an easy subway ride away.” “In this book, Brian J. Cudahy tells a different kind of Coney Island story - about how just getting to its glittering amusements on the far shore of Brooklyn gave birth to the modern transportation network that made modern
Contents:
(...)
7. Subways and the Nickel Empire (1900-1940) --

OCLC WorldCat record
Nickel Empire : a study of Coney Island
Author: Steven F Dansky
Publisher: [New York] : Steven F. Dansky, 2013.
Edition/Format: Print book : English

YouTube
Coney Island (The Nickel Empire).
Kindred Souls of Brooklyn
Published on May 4, 2017
A brief overview of Coney Island in Brooklyn.

Twitter
The Bowery Boys Podcast
@BoweryBoys
From this week’s Coney Island podcast: The 1919 elevated train terminal is an important symbol to Brooklyn’s amusement district. With arrival of the subway here in ‘20, New Yorkers could now get to Coney Island for just 5 cents. The Nickel Empire was born. https://bit.ly/2Le77AO
5:33 PM - 2 Jun 2018