The Day the Village Stood Still: The COVID 2020 Election

By Roger Paradiso

There will be a reckoning on November 3rd in the Village. As we approach that date the mom-and-pop shops in the neighborhood are waiting for a solution to the COVID-19 pandemic and the social and political repercussions of many decades of gentrification. These tectonic shifts have destroyed much of the bohemian tradition of Greenwich Village. 

Governor Cuomo has extended the commercial rent moratorium until December 31, 2020. It is his intention to extend this moratorium until the disease has been eradicated. 

Meanwhile, on Oct. 9, the administration of President Donald Trump announced policy guidance that property owners are free to start the eviction process while the federal moratorium is active. It also stipulated that landlords are not mandated to make tenants aware that the eviction ban exists (Reuters, MSN News).

VITTORIO AND VICTOR IN THE OPEN-AIR GARDEN SPACE at La Lanterna Café on McDougal Street. With safety precautions in place, this garden is usually filled up with diners. Photo by Bob Cooley.

Nick owns three historic theaters. The gem of these movie theaters is the historic Cinema Village, which is the longest continuously running “art theater” screening independent films in Manhattan. Located at 22 East 12th Street, Cinema Village opened in 1964. Greenwich Village was the epicenter of the counter culture back then. If you wanted to be a film director, an actress, a dancer, or any kind of artist you came to the Village. Now that world is gone due to the high rents. 

Nevertheless, Nick says, “I will never sell my theaters. I have sold my house, but never the theaters. I have been working on getting the theaters ready for opening. I have put in new ventilation systems to keep the air moving up to the ceiling where the vents are. I don’t know what else I can do. All the bathrooms are renovated to keep the air clean. The city won’t give any breaks to us on the real estate taxes, so I am paying a lot of money in the hopes of keeping my theaters ready to open. I need some cash flow, or I have to get another loan.”

Cinema Village represented the bohemian face of the Village. Back then content dictated the form—in other words, it didn’t matter if the theater was fancy if the work presented there was riveting. Nick says the theater will be here for a long time.

While New York State and the City of New York are broke, the Village looks to Congress to pass another stimulus relief bill. As of October 28th Mitch McConnel called for a recess until November 9th, which is an insult to those who need relief.  It is a callous move that seems to say let’s see how the election goes.

 “We fear that without a federal aid package soon, the NYC dining landscape will be irreparably harmed for the foreseeable future,” says Vittorio of La Lanterna di Vittorio Café on MacDougal Street. 

As outdoor dining is dominating the landscape, we cannot forget that the Village experience was always the arts and a night of dining, small coffee shops, and great bars—some with hip music, like the Bitter End and the Village Vanguard. 

Vittorio is concerned: “We are limping by here. The ability to close the street and provide an outdoor dining option has certainly been a great help in allowing us to keep our doors open and some staff members employed. Our biggest concern is that now, with winter coming and indoor dining capped at 50 percent at best, will we be able to make it through to next spring? They haven’t made an outdoor heater that can withstand a NYC winter. And if there was one, the cost to run it would be prohibitive. No, the only thing to do, metaphorically speaking, is hunker down for a long winter.” 

Health experts say evictions may contribute to a second-wave COVID-19 crisis as the newly homeless are forced into shelters or tight quarters with friends and relatives, potentially exposing them to infection. The danger is particularly acute in the winter when colder weather pushes people indoors (Reuters/MSN News).

Another thing the Village was always known for was great bookstores and record stores. James Drougas of Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books on Carmine Street is thinking about all the things he can do to stay in existence. “I did get a Toyota van that I’m thinking about turning into a bookmobile. Biz is still very spotty and minimal. I do expect to get hold of some great book titles for the shop. But not much new to tell yet…we are considering sharing space in the future, when prices come down deeper.”

If you can remember the days of vinyl records, you know that the Village had plenty of record stores. One that is on life support is called Village Music World on Bleecker Street. The owner, Jamal, has been trying to get an SBA loan for many months. His landlord tried to help him with the loan but gave up in frustration. Jamal said he is “still waiting for help not here yet, as promised me, and most of businesses around me are the same…the lack of SBA answers…same answer every single time, with no resolution…you have to wait. It’s in process for the last six months, but no other answer. I’ve been waiting, just wondering how come I have to wait this long. Other businesses did not. Is this just like a lotto ticket? Is this the way our government is run?”

These are the curve balls that small business owners must think about as we struggle between the uber-gentrification of the digital age and the lost business of the pandemic. The rents are too high, and business is too slow.

Jamal writes back in an email, “a little improvement on foot traffic, but still not fully feels like it’s even close to normal. January is going to be a mess.” 

We are in a quandary. Right now, an answer is not forthcoming. The scientists tell us the virus will be with us for a while. 

Maybe the Covid 2020 Election will provide some relief to a Village that’s looking for answers.

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