When the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic crippled the city’s restaurant and hospitality industry, outdoor dining spaces nestled on countless streets throughout the Big Apple were designed to offer a lifeline to struggling businesses while also providing diners a safe space to eat.
But two years into the pandemic and with indoor dining having returned, some East Village residents say the outdoor shelters in their neighborhood are far more than just an eyesore.
A strip of outdoor dining sheds along East 6th Street between First and Second Avenue appear, at first glance to be abandoned and out of use due to their graffiti-smeared exterior, broken and cracked wood framing, and piles of garbage stacked inside during daylight hours, yet longtime locals say when the light fades, they are put back to use.
“I would burn them if I could,” Franco Caligiuri told amNewYork Metro. “We have rats all over the streets, we have noise that is really sometimes unbearable, and they are disgusting.”
Caligiuri has lived in his East 6th Street apartment for decades and affirms things have never been this bad. He cites loud music and parties from the dining areas which keep him awake at night.
“It’s bad every night in the nice weather. It’s bad every night and then the weekends—you got to leave. If you live in the front, you leave. They make our lives miserable. You can’t walk down the f**king sidewalk. You know, and I got people screaming in my windows every night,” Caligiuri said, furiously.
Caligiuri attributes the noise complaints and piled trash to student residents who come to study for a few months before returning home.
“This neighborhood was once full of cultural artists and very bohemian, that was the East Village. Now it’s a student ghetto,” Caligiuri charged.
But not everyone feels the same way.
According to some younger residents, the scrawled street art and worn frames gives the area character and supplements the artistic vibes long associated with the neighborhood.
Nostalgic for a bygone period in New York City’s history, frequent visitors like Nicole S. feel that the graffiti is a work of beauty.
“I like it, I mean that is New York,” Nicole S. said, surveying the outdoor dining space.
Alex Nicholson, who traveled from Peru to the East Village to visit his sister, also agrees with these sentiments.
“It makes it feel cozy. Yeah, I think I like it. It’s different to what I see so it’s refreshing, you know,” Nicholson said.
Another resident who lives directly above some of the disheveled sheds said that the appearance isn’t half of the issue. Penna, a senior local, believes the structures should be torn down.
“They should be sent to the garbage. Salvage what you can for some other project, but these things bring rats. The rats come out when it starts getting dark and running all over the place. They multiply,” Penna explained, “And we get a lot of college kids coming through here and they party hardy, late, late, late.”
During amNewYork Metro’s investigation several store owners declined to comment or were closed.