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Turning the corner: Union Square businesses begin bouncing back after COVID-19 closures

Daily Provisions was one of the more than three dozen eateries in the Union Square Partnership that reopened during Phase 1 of New York City's reopening, which began June 8. (Photo via Twitter/@UnionSquareNY)

As the dawn of the second phase of New York City’s reopening looms on the horizon, Union Square businesses are already on their way toward recovery from COVID-19 related shutdowns.

Most of the shops reopen thus far remain essential businesses, namely grocery stores and restaurants providing delivery or curbside pickup. As of June 17, nine retail shops and services, along with more than three dozen eateries, have reopened under Phase 1 guidelines — namely delivery or curbside pickup only.

One of the most renowned shops in the area, Strand Book Store, was one of those that reopened, offering pickup service from its storefront at 828 Broadway.

The Union Square Greenmarket, which attracts tens of thousands of weekly shoppers seeking farm-fresh produce, continues to serve the public, but with social distancing measures in effect to protect both shoppers and farm workers alike.

Many businesses in and around Union Square remain boarded up — but not for much longer, according to Jennifer Falk, executive director of the Union Square Partnership. As Phase 2 draws near, merchants are beginning to ramp up for the anticipated influx of shoppers and diners returning to the area.

“What we’re hearing anecdotally from many of our business partners is that they’re waiting for Phase 2 for outdoor dining,” Falk said in a phone interview with amNewYork Metro and The Villager. Primarily, they’re looking to synergize with other businesses to rebuild off each other.

Falk considers it something of an upward “domino effect” in which, for example, customers coming to the square to shop for books at the Paragon Sports bike shop on East 18th Street might also want to grab a bite to eat at the nearby Tex-Mex place Javelina.

“As we talk with our individual business partners, we let them know about who’s opening up in the district,” she said. “There needs to be a certain concentration of businesses opening in order to make people feel comfortable with the idea of ramping up again.”

More than anything right now, the partnership’s mission is to inform the public that it’s safe to shop and dine at Union Square again. She noted that the businesses which have already reopened, even under various limitations, have worked hard to bolster that message.

“All of our businesses have taken the necessary precautions,” Falk said. “Every business we visit, the employees are wearing masks, they’re wiping things down and sanitizing. They’re taking it very seriously.”

It’s unclear, at this point, what kind of business retailers and restaurants are experiencing during the first phase of reopening. But in talking with many merchants, Falk found one commonality: Everyone’s just glad to be back open, and having optimism for better days ahead.

“From what I heard, they’re just ready to get back into the business of serving customers,” she observed. “Everyone just misses their customers, they miss their company. So I think that there’s a lot of positive energy as we al adjust to being back out in the communities. … Those businesses that are reopening, universally, the response has been that they’re so happy to be back doing what they love.”

The Union Square Partnership represents a large area around Union Square between 1st and 6th Avenues, from 13th to 18th Streets. The area was relatively hard hit by looting and vandalism that coincided with the George Floyd protests earlier this month, but Falk stressed that the area has quicklly recovered from it.

Through it all, from the pandemic to the recent unrest, Falk said, businesses in the area have stuck together, persisted and are on the way back to recovery.

“Union Square has always been the focal point for the expression of free speech,” she said. “It’s part of who we are and we’re proud of it. The business community has just been incredible in taking any setbacks in stride and doing what they can to reopen and welcome the customers they love to serve.”

For a full list of businesses that have reopened or are set to reopen, visit unionsquarenyc.org.

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