NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — New York City took a big step in its economic recovery Monday as indoor shopping and outdoor dining return under Phase 2 of its reopening.
Offices, hair salons and barbershops, real estate, vehicle sales, leases and rentals, commercial building management and retail rental, repair and cleaning are all back.
Playgrounds are also included in this next round of reopenings, much to the delight of children who have been cooped up at home for three months.
"This is the greatest thing ever," said one 6-year-old who was enjoying the swings at the Brooklyn Bridge playground.
"We've been crawling the walls," said one mom who grabbed her daughter and took her to play in the park. "I almost burst into tears. I was so happy."
The mayor called Phase 2 “the single biggest piece of our economy” with an estimated 150,000 to 300,000 workers expected to get back to work under Phase 2.
"Look, Phase 1 was a big deal, but Phase 2 is really a giant step for this city. This is where most of our economy is," de Blasio said Monday.
He cautioned that it may take some time for some businesses to get back up and running.
"Some people are going to do it immediately, some businesses are going to open up immediately, some folks are going to come back immediately, others will take their time. Others are going to watch and see how it goes," he said.
The city’s new “Open Restaurants” plan for outdoor dining, which includes sidewalk and curbside seating to encourage social distancing, could help an estimated 5,000 restaurants and 45,000 restaurant workers. Tables must be spaced 6 feet apart and face coverings are mandatory, except while seated.
Since last Friday, nearly 3,200 New York City restaurants have applied to use their curbsides and sidewalks to facilitate outdoor dining.
In the shadow of the World Trade Center on Greenwich Street, George's Cafe opened bright and early for al fresco dining. Owner Bill Pulamentas placed large partitions between tables spaced six feet apart out on the sidewalk.
"It's been a long time coming. We're definitely excited and a little nervous too," he said. "We survived 9/11. We survived Hurricane Sandy. We survived the blackout. We survived; we had a major flood on our property. So, every seven years a major situation occurs where it's like a death kill."
His first customers were Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, her husband, Cal Snyder, and Jessica Lapin, president of the Alliance for Downtown New York.
"I worry about the slowness of our opening and the economy, you feel it, I mean we're the only ones here and you don't see too much else open for breakfast and this is usually bustling, but there will be around 300,000 people going back to work today, plus the people who were in phase 1, so that's positive," said Brewer, who has been critical of the mayor's plan for outdoor dining.
Restaurants still have to wait until July to use full streets. For now they're limited to sidewalks and parking spots if they're open.
"It's rough and I think that customers aren't going to come back unless they can sit outside," Brewer said.
Another challenge is that overnight subway service remains suspended between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m for disinfecting.
Danny Pearlstein of the Riders Alliance said that there have been no clear guidelines on when the closure will be lifted.
"When the pandemic ends is not a clear benchmark and the governor needs to do better," said Pearlstein, adding trains can still be cleaned even if they keep running overnight. "Too many people who work through the night have planned their lives around 24 hour subway service and so the economy can't fully comeback without it."
He's seeing some crowding every morning as early workers catch the first train available.
MTA Chairman and CEO Pat Foye told WCBS 880 that 24/7 subway service will return, but he did not commit to a specific date.
Retailers, including clothing and shoe stores which were limited to curbside pickup in Phase 1, can now welcome customers inside at maximum 50 percent capacity, with face coverings and social distancing required.
Offices can also reopen at 50 percent capacity and real estate brokers can show vacant apartments.
Lapin called Phase 2 a great step in the right direction, but said it's going to be a long road for the downtown business district.
"We've been waiting for this day for months, but it's been hard for our local businesses downtown and it's going to be hard unfortunately for a little while," Lapin said, adding that a return to offices will be slow. "It's going to be slow here. Goldman Sachs announced they're bringing some people back which is great, but American Express said it's not. So it's going to be touch and go."
Nail salons, tattoo parlors and spas will have to wait for Phase 3.