423 Days After Shutdown, New York City Begins to Reopen, But Some Businesses Will Never Return

‘We must be humble in the face of this virus’

By Paul Riegler on 19 May 2021
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It was not just that spring was in there.  Reopening was starting to take root; indeed, it was palpable.

As a reporter walked in the streets of Manhattan Tuesday night, it was clear that preparations were being made for many businesses that shut down 423 days ago to reopen.  It was also clear by the number of “Out of Business” or “Closed” signs that many would not reopen.

The names are largely recognizable, some are not. Lord & Taylor. Chumley’s, a restaurant in Greenwich Village that had opened in 1922. The Roosevelt hotel. The Marriott East Side. The Monkey Bar, which had opened in 1936. The Irish Cottage, a restaurant in Forest Hills. Gotham Bar and Restaurant. Bowery Bar. The Neiman Marcus outpost at Hudson Yards that had just opened. The list could go on and on.

The Partnership for New York City, a local business group, said that one-third of businesses in the city might not survive the pandemic and that figure seems to have been correct. Moreover, many large companies don’t expect their staff to return in full force, ever, as telecommuting seems to have crossed the divide and become an accepted and successful way of conducting business.

Nationally, as of the end of last year, Yelp in an economic impact report said that 60% of the businesses that marked themselves as closed in early 2020 were now closed permanently.

It was a day with normally no particular distinction, a Sunday in March last year, when Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered all non-essential workers to remain home and indoors after New York state had accounted for half of the coronavirus cases in the United States. That came after smaller shutdowns, such as Broadway on March 12, and the World Health Organization’s declaration the day before that the coronavirus epidemic had become a pandemic, with cases in 114 countries.

New learned habits, however, are hard to break and a reporter saw swarms of people on the streets of Manhattan Wednesday still wearing face masks despite an easing of the rules.  Many businesses and shops chose to keep face-covering rules in place, perhaps a wise move as India registered a new high in its daily death toll of 4,529, the single highest death toll in any country since the start of the pandemic.

The situation isn’t however unique to the Big Apple: Smaller downtowns and high streets across the country have watched in despair as signs of long-sought revival and gentrification – new restaurants, businesses and shops in formerly abandoned buildings – disappeared at a rapid clip.

In most cities, the central business districts, the ones with towering buildings, the type that couldn’t have been built before the inventions of the lift by Elisha Otis and air conditioning by Willis Carrier, the ones filled with knowledge workers, found in almost any mid- to large-sized city, are in for a reckoning as it will take many years before these workers will want to fill an elevator car like sardines and ascend to the 32nd floor of the headquarters building.

As an elevator in the movie “Wall Street” stops to disgorge two people, a worried man says, “Goddamn elevators!… people, too many goddamn people in this world!”

When the door at least opens, none of them acknowledges the other, they stampede out with a collective gasp of release, or as the stage directions put it, “a collective sign akin to making it to a urinal after a punishing wait…”

The pandemic isn’t even over, and given the coronavirus’ propensity to mutate, I for one would not recommend throwing my masks away quite yet.

The pandemic tension may be beginning to be over, but as the United Kingdom’s health secretary, Matt Hancock, said in Parliament on Monday, referencing the Indian coronavirus variant known as B.1.617, “We must be humble in the face of this virus,” he told Parliament Monday.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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