By KAVITA MOKHA
Anchored by a taco shop just a stone’s throw from one of the largest urban beaches in the country, a section of Rockaway Beach in Queens has become a magnet for beach goers and local businesses.
Rockaway Taco, at the corner of Beach 96th Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard, has steadily attracted a growing number of day trippers to the Queens beachfront.
And the taco store that started as a one-man operation in 2007 now employs 27 people. The business has gone from opening only on summer weekends to operating seven days a week May through September.
“I learned to surf 10 years ago and discovered the Rockaways,” said David Selig, co-owner of Rockaway Taco, who earlier had owned a surf shop in SoHo. He closed that shop six years ago and bought the building that now houses Rockaway Taco and later additions—Veggie Island market and DiCosmo’s Homemade Italian Ice.
More businesses have also moved into the area, including Zella Lane, a skateboard and clothing boutique that opened just a week ago. Its owner, Southern California native Joseph Cusick, also first came to the area to be near a beach and has been living in the Rockaways for three years.
“I was shocked to see this area—it’s the last frontier of beachfront property still open for development,” said Mr. Cusick, referring to a few undeveloped lots close to the beach. “I wanted to get in on the forefront of it and hoping to be a part of it when it takes off.”
Until a few years ago it was illegal to surf on the beach, but now there are two designated surf spots open year-round: between Beach 67th and Beach 69th streets and between Beach 87th and Beach 92nd streets.
“Three years ago, we’d tell our friends to come out to the Rockaways on Sundays and have a taco,” said Elizabeth Gilchrist, co-owner of Veggie Island. “Now, the line is down the block and there are a lot of summer renters and I have new neighbors.”
While the culinary additions are a draw for locals as well as visitors—many of whom make their way from Brooklyn—the chief attraction for most remains the surf and the sun.
Brokers say the last two years have seen an increased interest in properties in the area from renters, home buyers and those looking to open new businesses.
Four condo developments have gone up between Beach 92nd and Beach 102nd street adjacent to Shore Front Parkway within the last 10 years, according to the local community board.
Among them is the BeachHouse condos, a 43-unit development on Shore Front Parkway and Beach 92nd Street. Morris Levy, an independent broker who handles sales for the development, says 41 of the units have been sold since Jacob Real Estate Advisors bought the building from a bank and put the condos on the market in 2010.
The buyers, he said, are a mix of surfers, blue-collar workers, professionals and empty nesters who have bought units as second residences.
For many of the young families that buy homes in the area, however, a single-family house with a price close to $300,000 is typical.
Meanwhile, the transformation of the Rockaway Beach boardwalk continues to bring in what locals call “dayers”—visiting for the day.
In 2011, Mr. Selig and his business partner, Andrew Field won a contract from the city Parks Department to take over the beach’s concession booths—three buildings along the boardwalk near the corners of Beach 86th, Beach 96th and Beach 106th streets.
The two invited like-minded chefs and friends, filling the booths with popular foodie haunts like Caracas Arepa Bar, which has locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and Rippers, a joint venture between Brooklyn-based Meat Hook and Roberta’s.
“It was an absolute colossal success what they did there, the attendance is up and it just exceeded our expectations,” said Jonathan Gaska, district manager of Community Board 14. “I’ve seen concessions come and go over 20 years, but what these guys are doing is bringing life back to the boardwalk.”
But all of the newly added flair isn’t without its drawbacks.
“Traffic was something foreign here,” said Mr. Gaska. “A traffic jam in the Rockaways was having a car in front of you at a red light. Now there are some complaints about that on the weekends.”