Archive for Sunday, December 1, 2002

New York makes a brand new start of it

Big Apple is coming back, and so are the tourists

December 1, 2002

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— Prince knew all the angles.

"Once he learns to speak English and point out sights," said Stephen Malone, "I'm out of work."

Prince moved.

"That's where Tony Bennett lives. He left his heart in San Francisco, but his apartment's here ..."

Malone makes his living driving a carriage. Prince, a palomino, pulls it. Without instruction, Prince had clopped us past the glamorous Plaza Hotel and the new Ritz-Carlton (the former St. Moritz) :quot; whose park-view rooms come equipped with, among other frills, telescopes :quot; and within pointing distance of Tony Bennett's front door.

And as Prince took a right turn into Central Park, the conversation turned to last year.

"The day the war started, business picked up," said Malone. "October 7. I'll never forget it, because we were very busy. It was our first real busy day."

It's stayed busy. It was, in terms of tourism, a pretty good summer for Stephen Malone and for much of this great, great city.

New York is busy again. Busy and hustling and bustling.

There is, for example, Broadway.

"They're hoping for 11 million this year," said Cristyne Nicholas, president of NYC & Co., the city's convention and visitors bureau, "and with the blockbuster hits they have, they should be able to achieve that quite easily."

The Statue of Liberty stands sentinel over the skyline of lower
Manhattan, where the twin towers of the World Trade Center once
stood. The 9-11 terrorist attacks delivered a crushing blow to New
York tourism, but the city is on the rebound.

The Statue of Liberty stands sentinel over the skyline of lower Manhattan, where the twin towers of the World Trade Center once stood. The 9-11 terrorist attacks delivered a crushing blow to New York tourism, but the city is on the rebound.

The record for tickets sold, set in 2000, was 11.5 million. Attendance in July was actually up over July 2001 :quot; and that doesn't fully reflect the impact of "Hairspray," the smash that opened (in previews) July 18 and now rivals "The Producers" and "The Lion King" as tough tickets.

Hotel occupancies, which plummeted to 50 percent (and less) in the weeks immediately after Sept. 11, were within a point or two from where they were in summer 2001. Occupancy rates in May (78 percent) and June (79 percent) were slightly above last year's monthly numbers.

Room rates, though, continue to lag. Deals abound, especially on weekends. Hit the Web sites. "Now's the time to really check us out," said Nicholas, "because everything's on sale."

Restaurants, especially in Midtown, have rallied. Two weeks after the attacks, Sparks Steak House, a Manhattan icon, was barely half full on a Friday night. On a recent Wednesday night, I pushed through a crowd to the maitre d'.

"How long for a single?"

The man smiled.

"It's not going to happen tonight," he said. "Sorry."

Those red doubledecker sightseeing buses :quot; some nearly empty late last September :quot; are nearly full now.

Emotional scars remain

Normal? Not 100 percent normal. Not entirely. That, even after a year, would be impossible.

"Businesswise, I'm not surprised it's come back," said a Brooklyn woman in the TKTS line :quot; the line to the half-price show-ticket booth in Times Square :quot; hoping to score seats for "Cabaret." "But emotionally ..." Her voice trailed off. "Everyone knows someone who knew someone."

There are some reminders, though nothing like it was a year ago. Today, shops sell postcards of the burning towers, most with respectful messages. Other shops sell bobblehead dolls of cops and firemen and even former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, NYPD and FDNY T-shirts, and ball caps.

On subway car signs, the city's health agency offers counseling for those "who still feel the impact. ... Many New Yorkers do." Outside fire stations and inside saloons, there still may be photos of colleagues and good friends lost, and flags where there didn't used to be flags.

But 10 days after last year's assault on the World Trade Center, when we last visited New York, this was very much a city still in shock. The haze and smell of smoke lingered. The swagger was gone. The jillions of U.S. flags that fluttered everywhere :quot; especially in Times Square :quot; couldn't blot out the pictures posted everywhere of the missing and the lost.

To smile in public, amid all that grief, was to feel guilt. That's when we first met Stephen Malone.

He was sitting in his carriage on Central Park South, reading the New York Post, top hat in place, waiting for customers who never came.

"It's not good," he said then of the carriage trade. "Down 80 percent, roughly. And that's up. We were down 95 percent last weekend.







Lodging: The sputtering economy and the general slowdown in business travel nationwide, along with situations unique to New York, have dropped prices dramatically. While still not cheap " lodging is notoriously high in this town " it's possible these days to find clean, well-located rooms for less than $150 (or even less than $100), especially on weekends. It's also possible to pay $1,000 a night, if that's your taste. For bargains, scan the Web sites, including the hotels' own.Theater tickets: Box-office prices for Broadway shows range, in general, from around $20 to as high as $100. Most can be purchased by phone through such agencies as Ticketmaster and Tele-charge, which will tack on their fees. Tickets for hard-to-get shows can also be purchased through brokers and hotel ticket offices, which will charge you for the privilege.There are options.TKTS booths in Times Square and lower Manhattan offer day-of-performance tickets at 25 percent or 50 percent off, plus a small fee. You're limited to what the theaters are unloading, and you'll have to line up early for the best choice, but still ...Another: The NYC & Co. office (810 Seventh Ave., near 53rd Street), often has discount theater coupons as well. Not all shows at all times, but you might catch a break.And one more: Consider Off-Broadway shows. Some of the most interesting stuff in town can be found in smaller venues. For listings and reliable reviews, consult the New Yorker magazine or, if you can find it, Time Out New York, as well as New York newspaper Web sites.Information: Call NYC & Co., the city's convention and visitors center, at (212) 484-1200, or check out its Web site at www.nycvisit.com. Another useful Web site: www.nyc.gov.

"I've gotten through the Gulf War and the '93 bombing. I'll get through this."

That was then. Here's what happened.

America rallied.

"Everybody came," he said. "They had to come. People who would never set foot in New York had to come. They had to come ..."

To see ground zero?

"To spend money," said Malone. "The campaign to come to New York that Giuliani and (Gov. George) Pataki did was lifesaving for my business."

Prince clopped on, past a guy standing on a huge rock in the park, playing bagpipes. Badly. Over there, said Malone, was the building whose roof was in "Ghostbusters."

Slow but steady comeback

Ground zero. People come, some in buses and some on subways or taxis or on foot, but they head downtown to see what's there.

What's there is a formal viewing area with a permanent-looking fence and signage explaining the history of the site and what took place that September. There, too, is a list with the names of the thousands.

Also there: ordinary cyclone fencing separating the street, and the people, from what now resembles a huge construction site. People, young and old, peek through; parents talk to their kids; everyone speaks in whispers.

The site does not appear in NYC & Co. promotional brochures.

But ...

"We think they should come," said Nicholas. "Look, this was an attack on America. It isn't just a New York thing. So every American has the right to be there. People are going for the right reasons. They're going to pay their respects and also maybe to find some solace, and it helps having people understand what we've been through."

At the tip of Battery Park, boats take tourists to see two of New York's grandest sights: Ellis Island, where millions of immigrants entered this country a century ago, more or less; and the Statue of Liberty.

A year ago, Battery Park was closed. It is open now, and so is Ellis Island, and so is Liberty Island, where the statue stands.

The statue, the inside, remains closed. Of all the New York sites shut down by the attacks, only the New York Stock Exchange and the interior of the Statue of Liberty remain off limits to tourists.

Chinatown may be slower than you remember, but it's hardly deserted.

The World Financial Center's Winter Garden atrium, damaged during the attacks, has reopened. Still open :quot; it wasn't actually closed very long: the observation deck at the Empire State Building. Uptown and downtown and Midtown, the museums and galleries are everything they were.

Times Square still dazzles. Carnegie Hall still takes practice to get to. A ride on the Central Park carousel still costs a buck. A 20-minute ride through Central Park on Stephen Malone's carriage still costs $34.

And if you listen closely, you'll hear a beautiful sound: the sound of cars honking and New Yorkers being New Yorkers.

"When the war started," said Malone, "that all came back. The aggressive nature :quot; everything came back. As nice as everybody was ..."

Beautiful.

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