Even as some businesses are opening for the first time in about 100 days due to the COVID-19 pandemic, much of Times Square remains shuttered as both Broadway shows and restaurants await the ability to open under Phase 2 and Phase 3.
The center of Times Square was sparsely occupied on Monday, many of those were either homeless or lived nearby and were looking for a quiet place to sit – unusual for the normally bustling area along Seventh Avenue and Broadway.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said it appears that Phase 2 reopening will occur on June 22, but he cautioned that might change depending on COVID-19 infection data. He emphasized that “we don’t want to be premature and end up going backwards – we’ve come so far.”
Nearly every store was shuttered, but a few signs of life were starting to take hold including at the H&M Clothing store on West 42nd Street where workers were removing plywood from windows.
“Yes, we are getting ready to reopen,” said one employee who couldn’t give his name, adding, “and since things are getting quieter on the protests, we feel we are more confident that we will reopen successfully.”
Workers were returning to Times Square too, including Brian Brennan, a 30-year carpenter who is now back to construction.
“I got my construction job back, but the problem is nobody else seems to be coming back,” Brennan said. “I think it’s a combination they are getting the money (unemployment) and they are afraid. I don’t blame them – even the governor said that he can’t guarantee anybody and nobody wants to take a chance. People don’t want to get it and take it home to their father’s. But yes, it’s strangely quiet out here in Times Square. I lived here all my life and I remember 42nd Street here in the 70’s – look at it now.”
While some businesses appeared to be getting ready for reopening, many remained boarded up and empty. On one block, homeless people who have been living in hotels on 44th Street were sprawled out in front of the Belasco Theater, sleeping on the steps or just mulling about.
“Hey, what do ya want,” said one homeless man. “We live in these small rooms in the hotel – that’s where the city put us, and so now, we gotta get out. So here we are.”
Food vendor Mohammed Ali, said he’s been selling hotdogs and other foods at the corner of 44th street for 20 years, and “I’ve never seen anything like this – there is just nothing here.”
“It’s a job, but its the worst time I’ve ever had, but you have to have faith in God that we can get through this,” Ali sighed.
One of the few businesses that were open was Connelly’s Pub and Restaurant on 45th Street, where curbside alcohol and food was being served to a small group of people standing on the sidewalk and in a closed-in gate on the street.
“I don’t understand why the governor wants to close these places – they gotta make a living all they will all go out of business,” said one patron who didn’t want to be identified. People want to get out of their apartments and we don’t even care that we are paying high prices for it at the bar. That the governor wants to give these places a hard time, I don’t understand especially with so many people gathering for demonstrations.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio continued to maintain that gatherings of this type were not allowed until Phase 2 of the reopenings, but mass protest gathers are “different.”
“There is a great disparity between those people outside bars and restaurants and those at protests – we are seeing social movement growing before our very eyes dealing with structural racism. It is an urgent historical moment. That’s very different from people picking up a drink or food and they need to follow the rules – that’s very different like comparing apples and oranges.”
Times Square Alliance has been working behind the scenes to help businesses in their community. See later today the work they have been doing in their area.