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The Day the Village Stood Still: “The Reckoning”

By Roger Paradiso

On January 28th President Trump was briefed by Robert O’Brien, his fourth national security advisor, who said, “This will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency” (referring to the pandemic, from Bob Woodward’s book Rage).

As autumn starts to come to the Village, we see more people walking around than we had in the darker days. Not as many as before the plague, but more than in previous months. People are getting confident, some say over confident, as evidenced by their not wearing masks or keeping appropriate social distance. Recently, students partied in Washington Square Park ignoring the health experts. NYU and New School officials are calling for help from the police to keep their students from partying and possibly spreading the disease. Fox News reported six cases at New York University that were probably due to the partying. 

ECONOMIC HARD TIMES DUE TO THE PANDEMIC, combined with exorbitant commercial leases have been forcing businesses to close at an alarming rate. Streets that were once filled with local shops and eateries (such as Bleecker St., pictured, and 8th St.) now have long strips of vacant storefronts often covered with boards or graffiti. Photo by Bob Cooley.

This is not good news for the local shop owners and elderly residents. Tory from the Half Pint on Thompson says, “This whole industry is screwed. Sorry to put it so bluntly. The sidewalk café barely covers payroll. There is no money in (our type of) food once you pay for product & labor. The café has cost me over 10g to get it up and running.” 

And yet, as students around the country party, the Congress fiddles about like Nero while the economy (and California) burns. It’s not just students. This president holds rallies in middle-American states where the virus is devouring people. And yet those attending won’t wear masks or keep a social distance. 

When we spoke of the do-nothing Congress, Tory told me, “Another stimulus is absolutely necessary or more doors will close and unemployment will rise again.”

I speak to Jamal of Village Music World, on Bleecker Street, where he sells vintage records. He is no closer to getting his SBA loan than he had been months ago. “They are sick liars, it is beyond belief. I call them a lot.” They keep him on a string, which is cruel. They keep making him submit the application over again. His landlord offered to help, and is now negotiating for Jamal. Of course, he would like to get his five months back-rent. Jamal got a small part of the PPP benefit, well under 10k. 

“We’re still not in a normal situation. A friend of mine, a doctor, was giving me a ride home to Brooklyn. These motorcyclists were weaving in and out of traffic and they even stopped traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge. I called the police and they did nothing about it. The city is losing control and we are near chaos,” said Jamal. 

I ask Jamal about the students partying without a mask. He doesn’t like that situation but all he can control is his store. “No one gets in the store without a mask. We can control that. But outside we can’t do anything.” Jamal is worried about getting sick. Usually, he travels on the subway to and from work. As for business, he says, “In some cases I am getting more customers like on Friday or Saturday. But on weekdays you’re gonna find it empty.” 

There are no customers at the historic Cinema Village on East 12th Street. There has not been a movie shown there in almost six months. I call Nick “the Greek” who owns this gem of a theater. “My best friend is 91 years old and he drives me around” says Nick. “He’s worked in theaters all his life. He started out in Union City working for RKO theaters. I worked for him when I was 15. Back then prices were reasonable.” Now, Nick says, “Cinema Village is almost a million dollars a year in real estate taxes. No one is talking about this. The city has cleaned us out. If we don’t pay, they threatened to fine us. They should be giving us a deferment on payments.” Governor Cuomo has still not greenlit the opening of movie theaters as we go to press.

By the time you read this we will pass 200,000 Americans who died from COVID-19. There are those who say that figure is not accurate and is higher, with more deaths to come. There are over 13 million unemployed and 11 million jobs that have been lost because of the virus (Boston Herald). 

On March 19th Woodward taped a subsequent interview with Trump who said, “I always wanted to play it down. I still like playing it down because I don’t want to create a panic…” “It goes through air,” he’d told Woodward in a February 7th phone call not previously reported. “So that’s a tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus.” At another time, Trump told Woodward, “maybe five times more deadly” (NPR Book Reviews).

Tory of the Half Pint has just come back from a Pint to Pint blood drive at Amity Hall on West 3rd Street. She says, “25 percent indoor (occupancy) is a joke. The mayor should resign. He has ruined New York.”

I pass by Jamal’s store. He says, “On Bleecker, from 6th Avenue to Thompson, there are about seven people I know that went out of business, and there are more to come.” He looks at me and I detect some fear. But then he smiles and says, “but not me. I will stay in business.” 

The plague will not leave our Village until the pestilence leaves. And that day is coming closer and closer. There will be a reckoning.

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