By Roger Paradiso
There was a fog around the Village the past few weeks. It was the fog of war against this virus.
I talked to Vittorio, owner of the restaurant on MacDougal Street that bears his name. He said, “It’s so bad here that it’s almost funny,” as a construction truck whizzed by his street-side tables. Not only are all shop owners in Greenwich Village suffering and losing money, but now they have to deal with a city government that has allowed major infrastructure work to take place on all the streets near Washington Square Park, especially Bleecker Street. How would you like to dine near a jackhammer or the beep beep beep of dump trucks and other construction equipment? As one observer noted, “Why couldn’t they do this several months ago before we opened up?”
So, our tale of greed, gentrification, and a virus has delivered us to what seems like a war zone. These conditions are all related and they will continue to be hanging around us like buzzards flying around a dead carcass.
Our country and our villages are at war. This will only be resolved when we conquer the virus and kill it with a vaccine and/or a cure. However, every state is doing what they want to, and the virus lingers in the South, Midwest, and western states. Sadly, there is no national plan.
Jamal, owner of Village Music World on Bleecker Street, said, “Last week I called (the SBA) and I was a little mad. They are unreal. They keep deleting my application. So, I said I want an answer—yes or no. Yesterday I got cut off the phone three times. Waiting. Waiting. Then they came on and said, ‘Call tomorrow we will give some good news.’ I think they gave me the money, but I didn’t get what I wanted, but every little bit helps.”
He comes to his shop every day, but he starts later in the day, around 1:30 in the afternoon, and leaves at 6:00 p.m. “I bought some more merchandise for a lot of money but what can I do? I need to keep the shop going.” He says that the Village is too dangerous and empty at night and he and a lot of his fellow shop owners close early. They used to close up after 10:00 p.m. But it is dangerous with people circling the Village who they haven’t seen before. “There are a lot of arguments and fights and I don’t feel safe anymore.” Well, sad to say, as we got to press there had been a murder on Christopher Street a few days earlier.
I call Tory at the Half Pint, but they are closed until 3:00 p.m. It seems they don’t make much money at lunchtime anymore; there are no students or faculty at NYU, there are no tourists who want to visit an Irish pub. When I reach Tory by phone she says, “It’s gone from bad to worse. The restaurant business is the second highest-grossing business in the state. We don’t have a voice to guide us or protect us. Now we are trying to get together. You can go to a museum and have a hundred people inside, but not a restaurant. We’re on very slim margins these days.” As we get off the phone Tory tells me that her sidewalk café is being shut down for ten days due to work on the water lines.
I called my friend Nick the Greek, owner of several movie theaters. The gem of his collection is the Cinema Village at 22 East 12th Street. He was busy planning an opening. He would not be able to sell popcorn, candy, or drinks, and people would have to wear masks and sit six feet away from each other. But he said optimistically, “I have the perfect environment. People don’t talk during a movie and they can sit by themselves.”
Then I got an email from Nick. Cuomo will not open theaters in New York, and said, “Even if you are at 50 percent capacity, with one or two seats between the two of you, this is a risk situation and…movie theaters are not that high on the list of essentials.” “He’s a politician,” Nick explained. “He wants to keep his numbers low.”
Nick goes into his theaters once a week with a small crew. He owns several theaters and a bar, and has some tenants above the bar. He keeps his three theaters clean and ready for opening. He keeps spending money and swears that he will never leave New York or sell his theaters. “That’s what I love. How can I sell them?”
I usually love to walk around the Village. But on this warm summer’s day I couldn’t hang out any longer. The buzzards were flying. The Senate had left for summer vacation without passing a relief bill (though there is talk that the House and the president are talking). Our president has gone campaigning and left the virus battle up to the states. The mayor and governor are kicking the can down the road on the moratorium for evictions. The executioner’s song (the moratorium) has been extended to September 5th. As Vittorio says, “What can Cuomo do? The state has no money.” Neither does the city. Who has all the money?
The resilience of Villagers is amazing. All the residents and shop owners struggle to stay alive every day. As Tory says, “I think it is disgusting that the Senate takes a vacation in the middle of a crisis. Millions of Americans are living hand to mouth right now. Mental health issues are soaring, and to throw an added financial burden of uncertainty to people who are already on the breadline is just unbelievable.”
If there is any justice in the world we will outlast this virus and this current government led by a president who spends so much time playing golf and tweeting. There will be a reckoning in November.