Times Square, once one of the greatest tourist attractions in the world, is slowly awakening from its place Coronavirus induced sleepThe post has learned.
An average of 105,000 visitors a day walked through the Big Apple’s biggest tourist attraction to see the giant billboards and neon lights, stomp into nearby office buildings – and more recently dine indoors in the restaurants that allow it.
That’s a 65 percent decrease from the busy days before COVID-19 in the region. However, this is a huge improvement on the ghost town that became the popular pedestrian walkway at the beginning of the pandemic when only 35,000 people a day were counted with electronic meters embedded in the district’s streetscape.
The Times Square Alliance, which promotes the district, says it is encouraged by progress. And local businesses agree.
“We saw the bottom in March and April, which was 105,000 in September, and we’ve kept that down,” Tom Harris, acting president and chief operating officer of Alliance told The Post. “I think it’s a strong number compared to other parts of the city.”
The alliance has no way of knowing who the passers-by are, whether they work in the district, live in the nearby Hell’s Kitchen or are visiting from outside the city.
But whoever they are, they seem to take advantage of the area’s local shops and other amenities, including restaurants that opened on Valentine’s Day weekend with limited capacity.
“I’m seeing the beginning of a comeback,” Greg Wetanson, co-owner of Dallas BBQ and Tonys Di Napoli in Times Square told The Post. His huge restaurants reopened for indoor dining on Valentine’s Day weekend, serving three times as many guests as he expected.
The two restaurants drew 18- to 28-year-olds in groups of 8 to 12, families with young children, loyal customers from Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens, and suburbanites from three states who reserved tables on weekends, the restaurateur said.
“A lot of kids are stuck at their parents’ homes,” noted Wetanson, adding that his restaurants stayed in touch with regular customers over the past year and made deliveries to the suburbs for special occasions like the Super Bowl and regular summer deliveries Hamptons.
Jeremy Merrin, founder and CEO of the nearby Cuban restaurant Havana Central, agreed there was reason to be optimistic, thanks in part to the rules by which restaurants are allowed in the city With 25 percent, customers are served indoors again Capacity from February 12th.
“We were full on Valentine’s Day and I think most of our customers were tourists,” said Merrin.
Business in Havana Central fell 82 percent in 2020, but Merrin hopes the resumption of indoor dining – including a possible increase in capacity to 35 percent from Feb.26 – will result in more sales.
“We’ll see what the next week or two looks like, but I think there is demand,” he said. “There are New Yorkers who have been waiting for things to open again.”
Most of the restaurants that are staying closed have made it clear that they are waiting for Broadway to turn the lights back on before they do so.
Governor Cuomo said earlier this month he was examining Broadway reopens For small target groups and with extensive COVID-19 tests, however, he still has to set a time frame for when this could happen.
“We are closed for the duration of the closure of the theaters,” says the sign of the Venetian high-end restaurant Osteria Al Doge at 142 W. 44 St. Pergola Des Artistes at 252 W. 46th St. also has a sign that says, “Will be closed until Broadway reopens.”
Currently, only about half of the district’s 309 restaurants are open, and the majority of them are quick to serve or have shipped, said Harris of the Times Square Alliance.
It’s not just restaurants that are suffering. Office buildings are about 10 percent occupied while hotels in the area are about 20 percent occupied, Harris said.
And while New Yorkers love to hate the overcrowded chaos in Times Square – the second most common place on the planet after Disneyland in 2017 – it is vital to the health of the rest of the city.
Though it spanned just a few blocks – from West 42nd to West 47th Street between Broadway and Seventh Avenue – it made up for one in seven jobs in the city in 2016, according to the Times Square Alliance.
It only takes up 0.1 percent of the city’s land area, but was again responsible for 15 percent of economic output this year, according to data from Allianz.
However, since the pandemic began, more companies have closed than opened there. The only restaurants that have moved to the district since the pandemic began have been fast food outlets, including a Chick-Fil-A on 675 Eighth Ave. and a Mooyah burger joint at 485 Seventh Ave. that opened during the great blizzard Feb. 1.
A branch employee of a large Times Square retail chain that sells watches and accessories said customer traffic was down 90 percent. The lack of tourism is a big factor, said the staffer, who did not want to be identified because she does not have the authority to speak to the media.
While there have been some tourists from Puerto Rico and South America because flights from these areas are so cheap, most Times Square visitors are “people who can drive into town,” she said.
Apple Metro CEO Zane Tankel is among those business owners who gave up on returning to Times Square until it returns to its former busy self with 380,000 visitors a day.
Apple Metro, which owns 34 Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bars in the New York area, closed its two Times Square locations in March and didn’t reopen them due to a lack of pedestrian traffic in the area, he told The Post. His Applebee’s on 42nd Street – which served around 20,000 guests a week – is next to around 40 closed movie theaters, while his restaurant on West 50th Street and Seventh Avenue was more dependent on the theater district.
When asked when he’ll reopen his Times Square restaurants, Tankel quipped, “If you look up at the sky and see planes flying over town, I’ll open again.”