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Coney Island's Mermaid Parade is underwater, financially

Sink or swim? The legendary parade is floundering financially and turning to crowdfunding to survive the stormy seas.
Mermaid ParadeNorman Blake

After 35 years running, Brooklyn’s Mermaid Parade is in troubled waters. The annual celebration that mobs the streets of Coney Island with scantily clad mermaids, artists and antique cars is known for heralding the start of summer, attracting a staggering 800,000 attendees.

But this year, they're struggling to stay afloat. Costs including pricey permits, insurance and the parade assembly’s move into the Ford Amphitheater have left an abyss in funding that organizers are racing to fill before the June 17 event.

Dick Zigun, the parade’s founder who is known as the unofficial mayor of Coney Island, says the trade-off for the new event space is a hefty price tag. “It’s the assembly site we always dreamed of,” he remarked. “That comes with extra expenses.”

The amphitheater has food service, a weather cover and dozens of bathrooms, making it an appealing spot for the assembly, but it’s just one of the many fees that must be paid by Coney Island USA, the not-for-profit putting on the event. The organization operates on a million-dollar annual budget, with the parade accounting for at least 10 percent. The total cost for the event is a not-so-modest $100,000, half of which organizers say must be raised by crowdsourcing if the event is to move forward.

While the clock is ticking, Zigun remains confident and said there are no plans to cancel. “It’s fairly doable,” he remarked. “We’re just trying to be responsible about our overall budget.”

Looking back, Zigun’s optimism might be warranted. In 2013, a Kickstarter campaign generated $100,000, double what is needed this year, when Coney Island USA’s offices were flooded by Hurricane Sandy and the parade was in jeopardy. With donations from supporters, the show went on. 

Although the parade date has been set, the not-for-profit is still struggling to make ends meet. Last winter, the organization laid off its entire staff for three months amid financial troubles. “We’re trying to stabilize the whole organization,” Zigun said.

As for the Mermaid Parade, Coney Island is determined to ensure there is no corporate takeover and is looking at crowdsourcing campaigns as an annual source of funds in the future. So far, nearly $8,000 has been given to help the Feed the Mermaids campaign, leaving just under a month for the remaining $40,000-plus to be donated.

This year, Debbie Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie will be the honorary parade queen and king, making a personal appearance in the march. As Zigun says, it’s all part of what makes this city unlike any other. “We’re proud to represent the wonderful weirdness of New York,” he said.

Interested in marching? Register here. To donate, visit the Feed the Mermaids campaign.