Due Diligence

Coney Island fixture Dick Zigun on living in a former warehouse, clams on a half-shell and why you should get a fixer-upper

By Virginia K. Smith | December 10, 2015 - 8:59AM

Most New Yorkers only head to Coney Island when the mercury gets up past a certain point, but as the unofficial face of the neighborhood, Dick Zigun is down by the boardwalk year-round. It's only fitting—Zigun's the founder and artistic director of Coney Island USA, the arts nonprofit responsible for the Mermaid Parade, the Coney Island Circus Sideshow, and the Coney Island Museum and Burlesque at the Beach, and might be the neighborhood's biggest booster. 

For this round of Due Diligence, we caught up with Zigun about his favorite boardwalk eats, the joys of a fixer-upper, and more:

What neighborhood do you live in?

Coney Island, baby!

Is this your dream neighborhood or is there someplace else in NYC you’d prefer to settle in?

Coney Island has always been my dream.

Do you own or rent?

I have a ten-year lease on a one-story building that previously was commercial, and I've renovated it into a living loft.

How’d you find it?

I dreamed of living there for 15 years before I got my lease—I then spent ten years convincing the owner that I could do a legal conversion and obtain a new residential Certificate of Occupancy.  He finally retired and no longer needed the building as his warehouse.

What’s the one thing you love the most about it?

Some guys restore old cars or motorcycles, I've always renovated cool, old buildings.  I love that I live in a funky artsy home that is 100 percent my design.

If there’s one thing you could change about your apartment, what would it be?

I wish I owned it so it made financial sense to take the renovation over the top.  I've spent $50,000 to make it livable and legal, but there also used to be skylights, and I'd love to restore them.

In three words, describe the first apartment you've ever lived in.

Tiny - Triangular - Soho.

Do you dream of old New York or prefer the 2015 version?

I wish I had a time machine so I could commute back and forth.

Tell us about the favorite apartment you’ve ever had.

The home I'm living in now.

And the worst?

I rented two floors of an old clapboard building on Surf Avenue in 1979 right across the street from Astroland, but three months into renovation the building burned down.

Name one NYC service you couldn’t live without.

Eating clams on the half shell on the Boardwalk.

What's your favorite spot in the city?

Sideshows By The Seashore, but I'm biased, I run it. Otherwise, Katz's Deli.

Which would you rather: Brooklyn brownstone or a penthouse in a shiny, new condo?

Brooklyn brownstone, but I'm really a loft guy.

If you could live elsewhere, where would it be?

I wouldn't mind a second home in South Beach, Miami.

Any advice for a recent New York transplant?

Don't be afraid of a fixer-upper.


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