NYC Return Plans on Hold as Schwarzman Cancels Birthday Bash
(Bloomberg) -- Mayor Eric Adams is urging New Yorkers to get back to the office, but even Wall Street firms including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. that pushed for a return for months are saying: not so fast.
Sette Mezzo is again packing up linguine alle vongole for its customers to eat at home instead of in the Upper East Side restaurant, while a swath of wealthy people are holed up in second houses in Florida or the Hamptons, having postponed their return and missing the city’s first snow storm of the season. Daniel Boulud has gone to being open four days a week from five at one of his eponymous restaurants near Lincoln Center as crowds have dwindled.
Blackstone Inc. founder Steve Schwarzman was all set to celebrate his 75th birthday next month with a party at his Gilded Age mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, but even that’s been postponed.
For New Yorkers, the new year has brought back delays, shutdowns and inconveniences that can make it feel like a flashback to earlier days of the pandemic.
And while things are nowhere near as bad as last year -- and people are proving to be adaptable -- the omicron variant is running rampant, with the city reporting a daily average of more than 39,000 new cases of Covid, and hospitalizations more than tripling since mid-December.
Some say the latest spike will just be a hiccup of several weeks -- perhaps until March at the latest. Others are on alert about what this phase will mean to the city’s long-term prospects for recovery.
“If people keep on working from home, and get used to it, then maybe New York becomes seasonal, and will empty out in the winter, like Paris empties out in the summer,” said Mitchell Moss, director of New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management.
For businesses, there are increased expenses for testing, and the challenges of managing staff, from replacing Metropolitan Opera singers who fall ill to telling waiters to stay home.
“This blowout will slow down in one way or the other,” said Gennaro Vertucci, one of Sette Mezzo’s owners, who described the restaurant’s Monday dinner service as “disastrous.”
“I don’t think we’ll go for shutting down,” he added. “It’s just a question of a few weeks.”
Darryl Bennick, a personal trainer, said this “isn’t a good week to judge” the impact of omicron on his business.
“Everybody’s getting adjusted to getting the kids back in school,” said Bennick, who co-owns the Live Well Company, a private gym in Tribeca. “Next week is usually full-on. If it’s light next week, it’s omicron’s fault.”
Big Wall Street banks have been among the most aggressive in luring workers back to their desks, but the new variant has given them pause. JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc., Goldman Sachs and Jefferies Financial Group Inc., among others, have told employees they could work from home for the first few weeks of January -- provoking admonitions from the city’s new mayor.
“I need my city to open,” Adams said Tuesday on CNN. “We have to double down on testing. But we have to reshape our thinking of how do we live with Covid.”
Getting people to work is another issue. About 1,300 subway operators and conductors -- or roughly 21% -- have been out daily this week, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Employee shortages prompted the system to suspend three of the subway’s 22 lines and plead with riders for patience as delays ensued.
To be sure, New Yorkers know much more about the pandemic -- and how to live with it -- than when it first shut down the city, and there are signs around town of people persevering.
The Metropolitan Opera had almost a full house for its New Year’s Eve production of “Rigoletto,” and restaurant Le Bilboquet on East 60th Street was fully booked that night for its celebration featuring the Gipsy Kings, said Dobi Trendafilova, director of operations. And on Thursday afternoon, about 25 diners in blazers and fleece vests were seated at the Grill, the Midtown power-lunch spot within blocks of many Wall Street firms.
Julien Farel, who charges $1,000 for a haircut at his shop in the Loews Regency Hotel, said the biggest drop-off in business he’s noticed since omicron first hit is among the party-circuit crowd.
“The makeup, the nails, the blow-dry,” he said. “The glamor has slowed down, because there are less gatherings. I know in Palm Beach, where there’s a lot of social life, it’s the same thing. People aren’t having those kinds of parties. They protect themselves.”
While the party scene in Palm Beach hasn’t completely dried up, many South Florida groups, including the Norton Museum of Art and the Boys & Girls Club, have postponed their big winter galas until April.
Jacqueline Weld Drake, chair of Casita Maria, one of the oldest Latino charities in New York, said she ended up not attending a much anticipated Palm Beach party out of fear it would become a superspreader event.
“A lot of people went,” Drake said. “As a party animal, I was feeling very deprived.”
Faced with the latest surge, Broadway producer Kevin McCollum decided to put one of his shows on hiatus. “Mrs. Doubtfire” will close Jan. 9, and could lose cast members by the time it returns March 15, he said.
“It was the right decision,” McCollum said. For one, the show relies on group sales, which have dried up for the moment. And it counts on families with young children, who are still adjusting to vaccination and mask mandates.
Running the show during omicron is also expensive. Daily Covid testing for the full company and staff cost about $18,000 before omicron, and has jumped to as much as $60,000 since, McCollum said.
McCollum emphasized that one show’s hiatus is not reflective of all theater. “Broadway is open,” he said, including his musical “Six,” which operates with a much smaller cast, and a weekly cost that’s about two-thirds that of “Mrs. Doubtfire.”
“The virus is bigger than any of us,” McCollum said. “We have to be clever, to preserve what doesn’t have a reason to vanish.”
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