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Sudden decision to reopen leaves New Yorkers stunned and divided

The news so long awaited by so many has landed like a bumpy boom: New York is reopening – not one day, not soon, hopefully, but two weeks from now. Last year’s erasure of the city’s nightlife, culture, dining and shopping – the things that make New York New York – would suddenly be canceled.

On Tuesday, a day after Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s announcement, New Yorkers responded with a mixture of glee, double-take and doubt. The thought of seeing so much coming back so early – May 19, a seemingly random Wednesday around the corner – was, for many, dizzying.

“It doesn’t seem quite real,” said Charlie Cloud, 16, a sophomore at Manhattan High School. “We’ve been living like this for quite a long time, it all happened a bit fast.” But that doesn’t stop him from making plans to return to his hangouts: “My favorite place is Bowlmor,” he says.

The reopening coincides with similar measures in Connecticut and New Jersey. From the Kabab King in Queens to Our Hero Sandwich Shop in Jersey City to the Atticus Bookstore Cafe in New Haven, people have reacted happily or suspiciously to the news, a moment a generation remembers, as clearly as when everything suddenly closed. down.

Some doubted the safety and the logic of the timing. Too early, too rushed, they said. Others smiled in a way they hadn’t had in over a year and made plans: a blockbuster movie on the big screen, a favorite corner table in a jazz club, where the rumble of a passing subway playing behind the clinking of glasses and music. The simple thrill of interacting with the city again, leaving home and coming back hours later, past, but also invigorated, alive.

“It’s almost like love is in the air,” said George Mercado, 56, of the back of Bouquets and Baskets, a Jersey City florist on Tuesday morning. “For a year and a half, we have had a lot of funerals, a lot of funerals. Now we finally do a lot of baby arrangements and weddings.

In Brooklyn, Jose Hernandez, 52, a deli worker in Red Hook, still looked a little in disbelief as he waited for a downtown bus. “It’s about time,” he said. “It will happen.”

Of course, the news of restaurants, bars, offices and shops reopening at 100% capacity only raised more questions for many. With social distancing restrictions still in place, the vast majority of restaurants and bars cannot fully reopen to pre-pandemic crowds. What will a bar elbow look like when the next elbow is six feet away?

“I want the restaurant to be 100% open and business to get back to the pre-pandemic era,” said Shaukat Ali, 68, owner of Kabab King in Jackson Heights. “It was difficult. Business has picked up slowly and it may be better for the city to reopen completely. “

The reopening is far from universal. The Broadway League has said most theaters will remain closed until September. And while some large employers like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase plan to bring back their workers in the coming weeks, many of the city’s large companies have continued to plan for slow reopening phases.

About 16% of New York-area office workers walked into the office in the last week of April, up from around 10% last summer, according to Kastle Systems, an office security company that tracks employee security checks in certain buildings. Only San Francisco has a lower rate among the nation’s largest metropolitan areas.

As the city reopens, the many employees who have worked from home over the past 14 months and have become increasingly alarmed by reports of increased crime could be encouraged to return to work, said Kathryn Wylde, President of the New York City Partnership. .

“The crime has nothing to do with what it was in 1990 – it’s a fraction, but people have gotten used to us being a very safe city and are really upset by the deterioration,” a- she declared. “Which may not be fair. People are so nervous and uncertain about their own future that all of these situations are exaggerated.

Her hope is that the reopening will bring places like Midtown Manhattan back to their vibrant personalities, she said. “We are no longer asking people to come back to a ghost town,” she said. “This is the key.”

The announcements of reopening in the region were not unanimously welcomed. Many suspected a combination of policy and unfounded optimism about vaccination rates and a perilous disregard for emerging variants of the virus played a role in the reopening date.

“The weather is not good,” said Felipe Perez, 48, a construction worker in Manhattan. “It is too fast.”

Natasha Reich, 21, a recent graduate of Barnard College, said the reopening “seems a bit hasty” and that she will continue to behave in a way that seems fair. “It’s less about rules than about feelings,” she said. “Sitting inside makes me feel weird, and I think I’ll feel weird for a while.”

Manhattan High School sophomore Kiara Neri, 15, said she feared the plan would backfire. “A lot of people won’t wear masks or get vaccinated and then they’re going to shut everything down again, including our school,” she said. “We started going back a month ago.”

The speed of the reopening seems reckless to some. Michael Cortez, 59, was very pessimistic. “I think it’s just a knee-jerk reaction to what’s going on in all of politics with Cuomo and everyone,” he said. “It’s crazy. And then we all ended up paying for it down the road. What’s the end game?”

Amadou Diallo, 52, screenwriter, fears that people will lie about having received a vaccine and endanger others.

“If this is something where you need to have an app where you can check it out, then I’m fine,” he says. “I think the last year and a half has shown that people are selfish and you can’t really trust them.”

But many business owners are optimistic, having looked at their nearly empty stores and imagined their customers are finally coming back. Atticus Bookstore Cafe, a New Haven store, has been selling books online for a year, limiting the number of customers inside the store at a time, with an A-frame sign blocking normal entry.

“We’re going to take the door down there and open the bookstore,” said Brandi Hawkins, a director. “In the most normal way possible.”

In Jersey City, 72-year-old Al Pilone, the owner of Our Hero, is eager to get rid of the orange cone blocking his dining room for a year. But he said he would wait a little longer.

“I’m waiting for everyone to be 100% safe, maybe 70-80% of the vaccinated population,” he said. “I don’t want to submit staff to anyone if I don’t know they’ve been vaccinated.”

But for many, the time had come to simply enjoy the good news. Wanda Antonetti, 50, a nanny in Manhattan, thought about the things she missed the most, going to the movies and eating in restaurants. The thought of coming back to this life soon brought on a smile.

“It sounds good!” she said.

Kevin armstrong, Sadef Ali Kully, Matthew haag, Alicia Napierkowski and Nate schweber contribution to reports.

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