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Hot dog! Coney Island is back — and not just every July 4

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CONEY ISLAND, Brooklyn -- "It seems as if there is a lot of money coming to Brooklyn, in particular Coney Island."

That is an observation being made by a number of New Yorkers who are returning to Coney Island this Fourth of July weekend for the first time in years.

"It's crazy how much it's changed," said Howard Kalin, who was making his first visit back to Coney Island in 30 years.

There is no doubt a strong pulse for commerce albeit in restaurants like Wahlburgers or in retail shops like Surf and Stillwell that specialize in selling souvenir t-shirts. All of this, of course, comes less than three years after Sandy.

"It's just improved so much since after the storm. It's kind of funny, they said they rebuilt it after the storm, but really it's a whole new place," Brooklyn native Colleen Herbert said as she was buying a shirt at Surf and Stillwell.

Herbert adds that the commercial gentrification that Coney Island is experiencing means that it is also losing some of its authenticity as well as intimacy.

"I mean it's great for the area," she said. "It's bringing in business and new jobs and everything but it's also getting more crowded."

Yanive Haddad and his family own six shops in the area. He sums up the last few years as: "A lot more tourists. A lot more tourism."

He also attributes it to two of Coney Island's most well-know characteristics. The first made its mark nearly 40 years ago on the silver screen, the gang movie The Warriors.

"The young people from Europe, Italy, Germany, London, they come here for The Warriors looking for the same wall. It's been torn down, but they're looking for that," he said.

The other attraction has sat on the corner of Surf and Stillwell for 99 years. Nathan's, where on Saturday its famed hot dog eating contest will once again be held.

"Even if it wasn't for the contest, people come here for Nathan's. A lot of people come here and you know you speak to the tourists, why, what made you come here? And a lot of them say Nathan's, Nathan's and then there are others that just want to see Coney Island but a lot of it has to do with that," he said.

Howard Kalin agrees, but adds that once the hot dog eating competition began to nationally broadcast its contest live it marketed Coney Island to a new audience.

"If you talk to people outside of New York and you talk to them about Coney Island, that is probably the first thing they will say that they know about Coney Island," Kalin said.