Ben Pack, a homeless musician presently residing within the doorway of a vacant storefront on Broadway, says he took up residence in Occasions Sq. final fall due to the crowds: “380,000 folks a day usually hit Occasions Sq.,” he mentioned.
Final week, surveying a abandoned Occasions Sq. from his perch, he shook his head. Earlier than the pandemic, he might earn $80 in a couple of hours performing along with his guitar. Now that the throngs have vanished? “I’ve been getting possibly $6 a day,” Mr. Pack mentioned.
Of all of the shutdown scenes, there may be maybe no sight as unusual as an empty Occasions Sq.. Because of its reliance on vacationers and workplace employees, the town’s most crowded neighborhood is now among the many most desolate. In accordance with the Occasions Sq. Alliance, the variety of folks passing by means of has dropped to lower than 35,000 a day, from 350,000 to 400,000.
However it feels even quieter. On a latest go to, Occasions Sq. appeared even sleepier than Montague Road, the retail strip in Brooklyn Heights the place I do my purchasing. An off-the-cuff storefront survey bore out my suspicions.
On Montague Road, you possibly can nonetheless frequent the grocery store, bakery, dry cleaner, bodega, liquor retailer and a wash-and-fold store. Most eating places are open for takeout. Even the florist is taking orders. Of the strip’s 69 storefronts, 55% are open for enterprise.
Alongside Broadway and Seventh Avenue in Occasions Sq., nonetheless, simply eight of the 91 storefronts I surveyed—lower than 10%—had been open. Many of the space’s eating places have shut, whereas the memento outlets and chain shops had no selection however to shut.
Retail real-estate consultants mentioned they aren’t stunned. With everybody bunkering at house, purchasing strips in residential neighborhoods have extra clients today. Additionally they characteristic a better focus of important companies which have been allowed to remain open, mentioned Steven Soutendijk, an government managing director with Cushman & Wakefield, who represents each landlords and tenants in Manhattan retail-lease offers.
The small companies that characterize neighborhood purchasing strips even have confirmed extra nimble than the massive chains in adjusting their operations to stay open, he famous.
Whereas he’s assured the vacationers and workplace employees will return, “Occasions Sq. is more likely to be impacted longer than different markets,” Mr. Soutendijk mentioned.
There’s nonetheless life in Occasions Sq., after all. The Purple Lobster is open for supply and takeout, for example. The most well-liked order? The $38.99, 1,070-calorie Final Feast for one that includes lobster tail, two sorts of shrimp, crab legs and sides. The situation’s off-premise gross sales have grown in the course of the lockdown, although not almost sufficient to offset the lack of dine-in gross sales, a spokeswoman mentioned.
Sizzling canine vendor John Galanopoulos, who has occupied a nook of West 46th Road and Broadway for 40 years, just lately returned after a brief hiatus. Earlier than the lockdown, he sometimes bought 150 to 200 $three canines a day. Now he’s promoting about 10, however he’ll hold going. “It provides me a little bit power as an alternative of staying house and being depressed,” he mentioned.
It’s odd to see the digital billboards aglow when no one is watching. Certainly, the promoting attain of Occasions Sq.’s indicators have fallen 85% to 94% in the course of the lockdown—a a lot sharper decline than the roughly 52% to 73% fall in out of doors promoting attain citywide. Surprisingly, the price of promoting in Occasions Sq. dropped simply 26% within the shutdown, says Chris Gadek, vp of progress and advertising and marketing for AdQuick.com, which supplied the figures.
One cause? Whereas there aren’t many individuals in Occasions Sq. today, images of the world—which has change into an emblem of lockdown weirdness—are showing within the media greater than ever, vastly amplifying billboard attain, mentioned Anna Bager, president and CEO of the Out of Residence Promoting Affiliation of America.
The Bare Cowboy, in the meantime, remains to be out strumming on daily basis at Broadway and West 45th Road, clad solely in his hat, white briefs and American flag face masks. “I don’t really feel I can keep away from doing what I do,” he mentioned.
So if Occasions Sq. has confirmed to be a largely nonessential neighborhood, why ought to we care about its future?
In regular instances, it seems, Occasions Sq. is as important to the town as a neighborhood can get. In accordance with the Alliance, the world employs 180,000 employees, gives 15% of New York Metropolis’s financial output and generates $2.5 billion in tax income for the town.
Whereas New York Metropolis outlets seemingly will stay closed for weeks and Broadway exhibits are canceled for the rest of summer season, Occasions Sq. Alliance President Tim Tompkins hopes civic leaders will acknowledge the world’s significance—each as an financial engine and worldwide image of the town—and assist its theaters, motels and eating places reopening in a considerate and acceptable method to deliver again vacationers.
“One of many quickest issues we will do to get cash into our coffers is to make ourselves welcoming,” he mentioned.
Maybe we’ll know New York Metropolis is actually on the rebound when the menacing Elmo characters and pretend comedy-club ticket hawkers return. “The second there’s a buck to be made in Occasions Sq. off a naive vacationer, somebody will probably be on the market attempting to make it,” Mr. Tompkins mentioned. “That will probably be an indication we’re returning again to regular.”