The Day the Village Stood Still: The Invasions and the Inauguration

CINEMA VILLAGE OWNER, NICK, sends a thank you note on his marquee. Senator Schumer led the drive to include movie theaters in the latest Covid-19 relief bill. Photo by A. Paradiso.

By Roger Paradiso

I have gone many decades without experiencing an invasion. To deal with two of them in one year is too much to bear. First the COVID-19 invasion, and then the invasion of the U.S. Capital Building. Thank God we have a new president; the inauguration will lead us to better days and hopefully fewer invasions. These are the thoughts I had this past Sunday as I drove into the invaded-by-COVID-19 West Village. It was a cloudy and windy day with winter’s chill still in the air, but wait—do I see some light?

Contrary to the dismal crowds during the holiday season—I shook my head and rubbed my eyes—was I just transported to the Village of the ‘60s? There was a decent-sized crowd of young people moving about the streets. A large crowd was at Jamal’s place, Village Music World, on Bleecker Street. Were they shopping for vinyl from the Beatles, Stones and Moody Blues? I checked my glasses to see if they were tinted yellow or something. I waved at Jamal who didn’t see me because he was surrounded by customers.

He sent me a text later that night. “Hello friend, hope all is good. Yesterday people were out, and we were doing ok business-wise. What we still need is grants and business loans. So far, I got NONE! Will try again though, the city is changing and changing fast. Too many vacancies in the city—that does not give me the impression the city is gonna be fine. We need the strength of the local and federal government help to put the energy in the city…I walked and drove to many neighborhoods in the city, some are functioning, the majority are NOT! It’s shocking to me. I do not want my city to fall. The city and state have to step in and save the unsaved. Well, that’s my own opinion. Hoping for the best to come.”

Last month’s issue had already been printed when the recent COVID relief bill passed in Congress days before the new year and was signed into law. It provided some $900 billion in relief and promised to help those small mom-and-pops like Jamal’s Music World. The bill also had some offerings for our movie theaters and performing arts theaters. Immediately I emailed Nick the Greek of Cinema Village.

Nick says, “this is a huge bill for us small independent movie theaters. It is a gamechanger for all the entertainment anchors in Manhattan and New York. The Broadway theaters, the performance spaces, and the movie theaters all serve as anchors to their communities. People go see a movie or a play or any music club—they spend money. They like to go out and eat or go to a bar. They walk around. They may stop in a small mom-and-pop shop. Right now, with all these places closed, it doesn’t look like New York. People come in to see movies, plays, music, and all the other events. There’s nothing now. It affects me at Cinema Village. It affects the community. It is so vital to the economy. The cities around the country will make this money back many times. This is a lifesaver.”

I moved on down Bleecker Street and saw artfully crafted graffiti which lined the boarded or shuttered storefronts of the dead stores. There was a sense of ethics here. No store still operating was given a treatment of art sometimes called graffiti. I like that. Art in the streets. And for the dead stores. It’s a little like Mardi Gras in the Village.

Most restaurants had built clever sheds for their winter guests. La Lanterna di Vittorio had the winner by far. Intimate metal- lined plastic-covered snowballs that you would see at ski resorts for those who like to eat outdoors in the frigid cold. The little winter sheds had heat and great views, with privacy. No longer would you have to worry about COVID-19 droplets or car exhaust. Did the Village turn into a winter wonderland?

I kept hearing, “Do you have a reservation?” And the word, “Yes.” Things are looking up. I couldn’t talk too much to Vittorio of La Lanterna as he was seating people and taking orders—something that owner/operators have to do in this pandemic. He wrote the following in an email: “Aside from the new round of PPP (which hasn’t been doled out yet) nothing much has changed since we last spoke. We are essentially in an extended holding pattern until the spring. Most everyone is just hanging on in the hopes we will return to some semblance of normal once the vaccine is widely administered and we achieve herd immunity.”

Vittorio feels, as do I, that the Restaurant Act needs to be implemented. I discussed this in the past. It is a Marshall Plan to save restaurants, and other mom-and-pops, by providing a grant to restaurants that gross less than 1.5 million dollars (which are the majority of restaurants and mom-and-pops in the city and country). The grant would be used to maintain a restaurant’s operating expenses until the crisis ends.

OWNER VITTORIO IS BUSY TAKING ORDERS at his cozy, heated outdoor private dining rooms. Photo by R. Paradiso.

Yes, we have a way to go. But I promised myself, in this year of 2021, to have some optimism about the future of the planet, or at least the Village.

In the special run-off election in Georgia two democratic senators pulled off an upset and won senate seats. McConnell is out, and big spender Schumer is majority leader in the senate.

But don’t spend any money yet. George Capsis and I aren’t spending much money yet, since we know old man McConnell has still got a grip on the purse strings. The senate is now 50-50 regarding filibuster rules that say you need 60 votes to pass most legislation. Nothing is easy, but we Villagers never give up and we pray for our new President Biden.

“If I had to sell Cinema Village, it would break my heart. I’ve owned this theater since 1968. I put my heart and soul into this theater. To sell it to a developer who may turn it into a commercial space or a condo…that would destroy me” (Nick the Greek).

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