With Broadway theaters shutting down for the rest of the busy Thanksgiving week, and possibly longer, because of a strike, businesses around Times Square are bracing for what could be a major loss of customers and revenue during their busiest time of the year.
The city comptroller’s office estimates that lost revenue from disappearing ticket sales, shopping, dining, and other theater-related activities, is costing the city roughly $2 million a day. Those losses would climb if the strike were to last the rest of the year, prompting visitors who have not yet booked rooms or bought tickets to plan their vacations elsewhere, city officials say.
But as the strike continues, the economic fallout is also being muted, because many planning to visit New York during the busy holiday season already booked their trips in advance, and many are visiting from overseas to take advantage of the weak dollar. As much as the strike is hurting, some business owners say, the uptick in business for other reasons is helping them get by.
Definitely, our theater business is way off,” said Sandy Levine, a principal of Carnegie Deli, the landmark sandwich shop at the north end of Times Square. “But thank God we got a weak dollar. We have a lot of people coming in from overseas, especially Europe, and most of them aren’t coming in for theater — they’re coming in to shop.”
“So we’re dropping in one area of business, but seeing a lot of tourists in another,” he added.
A few blocks away, at John’s Pizzeria, another restaurant that typically draws large theater crowds, Rick Mancini, a manager, said business at the 400-seat location has dropped roughly 25 percent since the strike began. Large groups have been canceling, and the wait for a table has dropped to 15 minutes from 45 minutes on the busiest days, but business from holiday travelers may help soften the blow, he said.
“We’re coming up on one of the busiest weekends of the year, and a lot of people are coming in for Thanksgiving,” he said. City officials say that much of the economic loss so far has come from the absence of day trippers, theater-goers who come from outside Manhattan to see a show and then return home the same day. As a result, the hotels in Times Square have so far been barely affected by the strike.
“Right now, occupancy this time of year is expected to be high, and we really see no significant drop in room occupancy at any of our hotels,” said Kathleen Duffy, a spokeswoman for New York City Marriot Hotels, which operates several large hotels in Midtown and other parts of the city. “This week you’re going to see more leisure travelers because it’s a holiday, and then next week that compresses as our business travelers return.”
But that could change if the strike extends beyond six weeks. The report from the city comptroller suggested that hotels will see little impact right away, because many tourists have already booked airfares and hotels in New York for the holidays and they are unlikely to cancel their trips, even if the Broadway shows they planned to see have been shuttered. But after six weeks, said Frank Braconi, the chief economist for the comptroller’s office, the Broadway strike will “affect the vacation planning decisions of long-distance domestic and international tourists.”
The latest round of talks between the producers’ league and the stagehands’ union broke down last night, leaving no end in sight for the strike that has darkened most of Broadway for 10 days. Soon after the breakdown, the League of American Theaters and Producers announced that it was canceling performances of the 27 shows affected by the strike through Sunday.
No further talks have been scheduled. The producers of one of the shows that was expected to be particularly popular this season said today that it might reopen. The union has ordered that the picket line come down for “ Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!,” which is playing at the St. James Theater, said James Sanna, one of the show’s producers.
But the Jujamcyn theater chain, which owns the St. James, said that its theaters would remain dark until a settlement was reached with the stagehands.
The negotiations over the weekend between the producers’ league and the stagehands’ union — which lasted for more than 13 hours Saturday and for 11 hours yesterday — came to a halt a little after 9 p.m.
Bruce Cohen, a spokesman for the stagehands’ union, Local 1 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, said in a statement that “producers informed Local 1 that what Local 1 offered was not good enough, and they left.”
Charlotte St. Martin, the executive director of the producers’ league, said: “We presented a comprehensive proposal that responded to the union’s concerns about loss of jobs and earnings and attempted to address our need for some flexibilities in running our business. The union rejected our effort to compromise and continues to require us to hire more people than we need.”
The producers decided to cancel the performances, she said, so that tourists coming to town for the Thanksgiving weekend could make other plans.
The breakdown in talks came as a disappointment to the actors, musicians and other theater professionals who are now living on strike pay, as well as the Broadway-dependent workers — bartenders, waiters, pedicab drivers and others — who have been coping with the shutdown since Nov. 10.
The latest round of negotiations, which took place at the Westin New York hotel on 43rd Street, was announced Wednesday, and some in the industry were optimistic that the stagehands’ strike could come to a close before Thanksgiving.
Robert W. Johnson, a senior labor relations executive from Disney, came to New York to help with the talks. Though Mr. Johnson was sitting on the side of the table with the League of American Theaters and Producers, Disney is not a member of the league, and Mr. Johnson has had a long relationship with union officials. He helped negotiate the stagehands’ contract at the Disney-owned New Amsterdam Theater 10 years ago.
Thomas C. Short, the president of Local 1’s parent union, also attended the talks.
The league and the union have been negotiating since July, when the contract expired. Producers have been trying to add some flexibility to the rules on when stagehands are needed for work, how many are needed and what tasks they performed. The union has said it is open to changes, as long as they come with benefits of equal value.
The talks over the weekend were the first since the two sides broke off negotiations on Nov. 8. But there was a sense yesterday that things were not going to turn out well.
Hundreds of Local 1 members arrived at the Westin yesterday morning for a scheduled monthly business meeting. Little was said about the progress of the talks, other than that they were tough.
About 9:20 p.m., a group of union negotiators walked out of the hotel, and shortly afterward, the negotiating team representing the theater owners and producers followed.
“It’s a big disappointment,” said Paul Libin, a producing director and part owner of the Jujamcyn theater chain.
By ANAHAD O’CONNOR and CAMPBELL ROBERTSON