NEW YORK—Signs of life have emerged on New York City’s streets and in its parks as phase one of a four-step reopening plan has begun, although it’s still far from the hustle and bustle long synonymous with the Big Apple.
In Union Square, some New Yorkers sat to play chess or read a book, others took a stroll in Central Park, and construction workers around the city dusted off their tools. The U.S. epicenter of the CCP virus, commonly known as novel coronavirus, outbreak is seeing a gradual turnaround.
An estimated 200,000 to 400,000 people are returning to work under phase one, which allows five industries—construction, agriculture, retail (limited to curbside or in-store pickup or drop-off), manufacturing, and wholesale trade—to reopen as of June 8.
Some businesses managers and owners told The Epoch Times they’re optimistic as they detailed the positive response they saw from their customers and community. Others were more cautious, saying they couldn’t see their livelihood returning to how it was before the pandemic hit.
While some retail stores have opened their doors for business, others remain closed or boarded up.
Daily cases of the virus, which peaked in April with more than 6,000 in one day, have seen a steady decline, according to government data. The city also recently reached a positive milestone with no virus fatalities recorded on June 3, the first time since the outbreak began in early March.
In recent days, new cases of the virus recorded each day hovered in the hundreds, although due to delays in reporting, the latest data is incomplete. There have been 204,576 confirmed cases of the virus and 17,203 attributed deaths in New York City, as of June 9.
Ready to Work
Tsahai Gilchrist, manager at Paragon Sports, located near Union Square, told The Epoch Times that the retailer’s recently added curbside pickup option has helped the store with traffic. Gilchrist said everyone was raring to go back to work.
“We have had a good response from our community, a lot of lovers of our cycling gear have come in to support,” she said. “We have a steady amount of traffic, it all varies based on the time of the day.”
Sports stores such as Paragon and other businesses deemed non-essential were forced to shut in March due to the pandemic.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said more than 100,000 small businesses in New York have closed permanently.
From Gilchrist’s perspective, the city looks “a little more active” over the last few days in comparison to before. She remains hopeful that phase one, especially for small businesses, could enable them to bring in revenue and to open up completely in the later phases.
New York City is getting back to business with its phase one reopening after meeting certain government benchmarks, while other areas in the state have already moved on to phase two of reopening.
“The response is positive,” Navil Saidi, the owner of Gartner’s Hardware on the Upper West Side, told The Epoch Times. “Everybody’s happy about finding things they need for emergencies.”
When that store reopened for the first time earlier this week, Saidi said he saw around 50 percent fewer customers than they would have seen pre-pandemic. He said he supported the gradual reopening plans.
‘We Were Crying’
To attract more potential customers, one store on the Upper West Side brought out a table to showcase their products to New Yorkers walking past.
“It’s been so terrific. People are like, ‘Oh, I’m so glad you’re open!'” Tracey Morse, manager at Down & Quilt Shop, a bedding and textile product store, told The Epoch Times. “We had a great day as far as sales.”
On their first day of opening, Morse said they had eight customers, with one of them spending quite a bit of money.
“One sale can make your day,” she added. “You got to get your word out.”
But as a small brick-and-mortar store, even in good times, business is a struggle, she said.
“We were crying” when forced to close, Morse recalled. At the time, they negotiated with their vendors to make things work and to deliver a small amount of products to customers.
They also struggled to pay rent.
“As New Yorkers, we are tough. We did what we had to do and now we’re able to reopen because we did what we did,” she said, adding that “slow and steady wins the race.”
‘Open Us Up’
While some businesses supported the gradual reopening efforts, others hoped for something more speedy to reignite the city’s raving economy, citing dire financial situations.
Maria Koun, manager at Dino’s Shoe Repair, located a short walk from Columbus Circle, said when they reopened, most people didn’t even know, as most stores in the area remain closed.
She said the store used to have five other employees; now they just have one.
“The people that see you and call you are very happy that you’re open because it’s a dead place around here,” she said.
Koun said she hoped everything would open at once with the right precautions. The city government is barely helping businesses at all, she said.
“I think there will be another 100,000 businesses closed because the rent is so high. They have to make the rent lower or we can’t survive,” she said. “Four, six, eight weeks is fine, but after that, open us up.”
Meanwhile, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has damped hope of a quick move to phase two.
“If we’re ready on June 22, that’s beautiful, but I don’t want people to have undue expectations,” de Blasio told reporters on June 9.
Eliot Rabin, owner of Peter Elliot Blue, a men’s clothing store on the Upper East Side, also believes New York City should fully reopen. Rabin, who has defied the lockdown measures, said the curbside pickup option didn’t make sense for clothing stores.
“How are you supposed to try it on?” he told The Epoch Times. “Man wants to buy a pair of pants, what’s he supposed to do? Take it off in the middle of the street?”