As Times Square suffers, Alliance tries to soften the blow during COVID crisis

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The city is in Phase 1 of the reopening of commercial establishments, but Times Square remains mostly a ghost town. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

The Times Square business community is barely holding on as the COVID-19 pandemic forces them to keep their doors closed. But the Times Square Alliance has not given up hope.

The Times Square Alliance, founded in 1992, certainly hasn’t thrown in the towel as Broadway theaters remain shuttered till possibly January. They await phase 2 of the pandemic reopening, while continuing to make sure the streets are clean, secure and those businesses that can operate virtually get all the help they need.

But so much depends on attracting people to Times Square and having Broadway shows and restaurants closed is a major disruption. Tourists who would flock to Times Square are stuck in their homes overseas or in other states awaiting the all-clear. In the midst of this absence of crowds, Regina Fojas, director of external affairs says they are doing what they can to help their “stakeholders.

“COVID aside, we are trying to keep the area clean, safe and provide marketing support and advocacy for our stakeholders,” Fojas said. “We try to provide information on a weekly basis – information and updates on the pandemic and what the transition will be.”

The Alliance, covering most of the territory from 40th Street to 53rd Street between 6th and 8th Avenues, as well as Restaurant Row (46th Street between 8th and 9th Avenue), has also helped distribute thousands of masks and PPE to businesses and construction companies given to them by the Department of Business Services.

Because of COVID-19, the Alliance leadership must work remotely, but they’re providing up-to-date information on how businesses will be able to operate with the contagion still a threat and what the opening will look like. They have also taken out ads to promote Times Square, in an attempt to help businesses that could function with take-out and delivery services. They provide a list of active restaurants that are operating and they promote that on their web site.

Some of their promotions include Take Out Tuesdays when customers can get special deals for ordering from restaurants in Times Square and the Hell’s Kitchen community.  Fojas said they are also working on creating more “open streets” in Times Square to promote visitors to come to the area. This is especially important as some businesses will again reopen, even if in a limited way. Just this past Monday, H&M on 42nd Street was removing plywood from their windows in preparation for what they are hoping will be Phase 2 reopening on June 22.

The city is in Phase 1 of the reopening of commercial establishments, H&M prepares for a reopening, removing plywood panels. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

“Now that we are entering recovery and reopening, we are working with the city on some of their programs, including open streets and close some of those streets to vehicular traffic,” she said. “We are just waiting for the city to announce the changes.”

The real trick for the Alliance is trying to figure out what the reopening will look like for some establishments, whether some will be able to expand service in the streets. Already, some businesses have been reopening with take-out type set-ups, but patrons are staying, earning consternation from Governor Andrew Cuomo. The mayor, however, has been less stern, understanding that the businesses must survive.

One of the few bars in the area operating this week was the famous Connelly’s Pub and Restaurant on West 45th Street, where customers were able to get a drink and enjoy it right outside the restaurant in the open air.

“We are working on helping restaurants with outdoor dining solutions and when phase 2 goes into effect, we want to find what is the comfort level with outdoor dining, and some restaurants haven’t really worked that out,” Fojas said. “

The Alliance also wants to create pick-up plazas that are near restaurants where customers can await those orders on the Broadway plaza areas.

The Alliance is preparing a guidebook, with the state-mandated regulations for reopening. the book is a culmination of recommendations from the research. of how other areas of the state and surrounding states were able to reopen and what was successful that could be used for Times Square merchants.

For some restaurants, she said some don’t have a budget for and don’t have plexiglass that costs thousands of dollars to install. They have also assisted businesses get loans and PPP dollars to keep people employed, but it hasn’t been an easy road without the shows.

“It’s been frustrating, but we are trying to get as much virtual events as possible –  every cast was active before this, now they are doing group performances on YouTube, either doing charity benefits on social platforms – just another way supporting Broadway,” Fojas said of their work with Charlotte St. Martin and the Broadway League.

They are also working on “Songs for the City,” a songwriting contest with past participants of Broadway buskers, many who are still performing on the street and in the transit system. She said they are seeking to showcase the Broadway actors and original music creating shows and happy hours that will live on the plazas until the theaters reopen. But for now, “we can’t do it right now, so we are transitioning to a virtual version.”

With all their efforts, it is difficult to get past the theaters being closed, the lifeblood and main attraction of Times Square. So they will continue to keep the streets clean and provide visible security.

Looking on the bright side, she joked, “at least the DOT is getting to fill the potholes.”

The city is in Phase 1 of the reopening of commercial establishments, but Times Square remains mostly a ghost town. (Photo by Todd Maisel)