Times Square occupies just 0.1% of New York City’s land mass, but in a normal year, the restaurants, shops and theaters at the “Crossroads of the World” generates tens of billions of dollars for the city’s economy.
But nothing has been normal at Times Square for more than a year since COVID-19 officially arrived in New York in March 2020. Within weeks, the area’s hustle and bustle was replaced with the sound of silence — the streets empty of pedestrian and vehicular traffic, businesses shuttered and Broadway theaters dark.
As New York City finally reopens in earnest with COVID-19 cases dropping and more people getting vaccinated, Times Square is already springing toward a rebirth. More than 175 businesses have reopened, joining 18 new brick-and-mortar shops that launched their businesses against the current of the global pandemic, according to the Times Square Alliance, the community’s business organization.
Tom Harris, acting president and chief operating officer for the Times Square Alliance, noted that the area is seeing about 138,000 pedestrians walking through each day — 103,000 more than the record-low of 33,000 daily pedestrians seen at the height of the pandemic in the spring of 2020.
“However, with the ongoing vaccination rollout, easing capacity restrictions and warm weather arriving a year after living with the pandemic, we continue to see our vibrant district come back to life,” Harris said. “We look forward to continuing to welcome back New Yorkers and visitors to Times Square, the center of New York City’s energy and vibrance.”
How long it will take Times Square to get back to pre-pandemic levels of economic activity remains to be seen. Before COVID-19 hit, according to the Times Square Alliance, the area accounted for 7% of the city’s jobs and 15% of its economic input — including $58 billion in direct economic output and $47 billion indirect economic output.
The city and state governments also reap incredible revenue from Times Square — to the tune of $2.5 billion in New York City taxes and $2.3 billion in state taxes.
The revival of Broadway figures to be key toward Times Square’s next act. The Great White Way has been dark since capacity restrictions forced theaters to close in March 2020; the Broadway League announced in October that theaters would remain shut down through the end of May 2021.
With Governor Andrew Cuomo announcing a regional reopening of New York City as of May 17, it’s only a matter of time before Broadway and Times Square kick into even higher gear. The governor stated that it’s up to Broadway productions as to when they’ll resume, but the reopening plan clears the way for the Theater District to raise the curtain again.
Hotels will also be key to Times Square’s economic recovery. The Times Square Alliance reports that a number of major hotels have reopened to guests, including AKA Times Square, OYO Hotel Times Square, RIU Plaza New York Times Square, Westin New York, W New York and Time Hotel.
Big retailers such as H&M and Forever 21 are also opening their doors again, the alliance noted, and attractions such as Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Times Square and Madame Tussaud’s Times Square are also welcoming visitors back.