On March 22 at 8 p.m., the city that never sleeps was sent into hibernation when Gov. Andrew Cuomo forced all non-essential businesses to shut down.
The billboards of Times Square have continued to sparkle, but there have been few visitors to take in the sight – save for the visiting doctors and nurses in town to help battle the virus who have taken up residence in otherwise-empty hotels nearby.
Fifth Avenue’s famed luxury shops boarded up their windows and malls closed their doors, leaving only grocery stores, pharmacies and other essential services open.
Some 66 million tourists typically visit the Big Apple each year. So when will New York City’s attractions and stores reopen to visitors once again — and when will the crowds be willing to brave them? Here’s what the experts say.
When will tourism and shopping return to NYC?
Curb-side retail service could be here as early as the first week of June — while in-store shopping could return the third week of June.
Tourism, however, is likely to remain stagnant until international travel restrictions are lifted.
Under Cuomo’s four-phased reopening plan, curbside retail will come during phase one and in-store retail will come during phase two. The Big Apple has met four of the seven benchmarks needed to begin reopening and Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday he expects the city will get there as early as June 1.
If those trends remain consistent, shops would be able to offer curbside pickup during the first week of June and as long as the numbers remain down, retail stores and malls could reopen two weeks later, in mid-June.
Hotels, the few that have not closed, have primarily been doing “government business” like housing first responders, homeless New Yorkers and recovering COVID-19 patients, said Vijay Dandapani, the President & CEO of the Hotel Association of New York.
“Out of nearly 700 hotels, nearly half of them are closed,” Dandapani told The Post, adding some could start to open their doors for regular guests in July.
“It hinges on how international and domestic travel pick up, how the tech companies react to this,” Dandapani said, referring to business travelers.
When it comes to luxury hotels, they probably won’t be open until “August or September,” Dandapani said.
“Unfortunately until Broadway reopens, until the Metropolitan Opera reopens, until the museums reopen, it’s going to take a lot of time, you’re not going to have the city with all its many lights on so to speak and that’s why you’ll see lower occupancy,” Dandapani said.
Many of the aforementioned key drivers of tourism won’t be allowed to reopen until phase four of Cuomo’s plan, which is likely to come in late July — and Broadway won’t be back until September at best.
Even then, if international travel does not resume, a large chunk of New York’s tourists won’t be able to come for a while.
Currently, non-citizen travelers from Canada, Mexico, China, Iran, most of Europe, the UK and Ireland are barred from entering the U.S, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are currently no known COVID-19 related travel restrictions for South America, Australia and Africa.
Until a vaccine or therapy is developed, Dandapani expects there will be a general aversion to traveling.
But Councilman Paul Vallone, the Chair of the Committee on Economic Development, said it’ll be up to New Yorkers to show the rest of the world it’s safe to visit.
“First, New York City residents are going to have to come back to the city and then we will be the template for tourism. Once we start going back to Times Square and Bell Boulevard in Queens then the world will see New York City has got this,” Vallone, who recently introduced a bill to create an Office of Interagency Tourism Affairs, told The Post.
“And once we show the world that we got it then you’ll see the tourists follow right behind them.”
What will the ‘new normal’ for NYC’s tourist hotspots and stores look like?
Open-air markets, long lines and Facetiming with sales assistants could all be part of New York’s new normal, experts say.
Manuel Mansylla, co-founder and principal of Totem, who helps businesses repurpose public spaces in front of their shops, predicts the future will be centered around outside activities and, unfortunately, long lines to get into stores and restaurants that’ll only be allowed to open with reduced occupancy.
“Sidewalks are either going to be really boring … which is going to make [waiting in line] feel like going through security at the airport, which is hell. Or, is there going to be a fun version of this so it’s going to feel more like Disney Land and that means a lot of design is going to have to come into this,” Mansylla told The Post.
He envisions retailers using already existing infrastructure like barriers outside of their shops to set up small tables or sidewalk art galleries to encourage people to stay in line and make the process easier to bear.
Mansylla also expects a new emphasis on infrastructure for outdoor markets and creating “single-serve public spaces” with seperate “nooks and crannies” for people to sit and relax.
“You’re going to see more and more ways to start to fragment public spaces whether it’s from markers or dividers, so you’re signaling to people this is how far apart you should be,” Mansylla said.
Anthony E. Malkin, the CEO of Empire State Realty Trust, said the organization is planning to limit occupancy to the Empire State Building’s observatories, and will require temperature checks, face masks and hand sanitizing before visitors are allowed to enter.
“The observatory has an entirely separate entrance from the office building, so the observatory visitors do not mix with the office tenants or visitors,” Malkin told The Post.
“Visitors don’t have to touch anything, other than the door to get in. They don’t have to push an elevator button. Similarly we will control occupancy in the elevators. We will have personal protection equipment for all the attendees in the observatory.”
Hotels will take a similar approach, Dandapani said.
“If a guest walks in without a mask, every hotel is going to make sure there is a mask available,” Dandapani said, adding branded masks could be part of the new normal.
“Certainly the idea is to not make it look like a hospital.”
He said hotels will focus on initiatives they’ve already created — like self-check in using smartphones — so guests can go straight to their room without having to be in contact with anyone.
On the plus side: “You’re going to have bargain city, so tell all your friends you’re going to get rates you’ve never seen before,” the hotel boss quipped.
Jim Easley, the senior general manager of the Staten Island mall, said there’ll be a host of changes once it is allowed to reopen — including hand-sanitizing stations at each entrance, propped-open doors and fewer tables in the food courts.
“There will be stickers on the floor to promote social distancing to show what six feet apart looks like. We’ll have furniture moved around, if you sit down and decide to relax while you’re here you’ll be six feet away from the next person,” Easley said.
Mall officials are still figuring out if they’ll be able to move forward with scheduled events, like a July carnival, but are already thinking about ideas as far ahead as December, which include a roving Santa Claus.
Joseph Ferrara, the developer of Staten Island’s Empire Outlets, is counting on a new-found appreciation for shopping hub because the outlets — positioned along the New York Harbor — will be conveniently accessible from the Staten Island Ferry.
“I think a lot of people are going to jump on that boat, they’re going to come over for a day trip, get out of their apartment and into an outdoor environment,” Ferrara said.
He said he’s toying with the idea of virtual shopping, where customers can Facetime with someone inside the store and check out the inventory before coming in to pick up merchandise, along with other ways to make the in-person shopping experience safer.
“When a customer tries on a product they’ll be setting it off to the side and spraying it down with a cleaning agent, so it’s safe to re-rack that product,” Ferrara said.
“Tenants that we’ve had discussions with, currently they’ll be having markers on the floor, they’ll be removing their public restrooms … and limiting the number of changing rooms.”
Additional reporting by Lorena Mongelli