By Cory James

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – The Great White Way and surrounding businesses were seeing shades of gray during the pandemic shutdown.  No business was unaffected when theaters were forced to close, affecting hundreds of thousands of jobs, and billions of dollars.

As CBS2’s Cory James reports, the Broadway reopening of “Hamilton” is more than just a boon for theater lovers. This musical alone is a billion dollar franchise that will hopefully drive people back to the Theater District and help with a much needed economic recovery for all businesses in the area.

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Broadway is a business steeped in the arts, but it survives by the numbers. Consider:  Broadway is home to 41 theaters.  More than 14 million people spent nearly $2 billion on tickets alone in 2019.

The shutdown on March 12, 2020 put about 97,000 people out of work, and the ripple effect was devastating to the surrounding businesses.

“Our relationship to the Theater District is really an essential part of our hotel, right in the heart of where all our Broadway shows are. We’re across the street from ‘Chicago.’ We’re right next door to ‘Book of Mormon,'” said Leiya Cohen, general manager of The Time New York, a boutique hotel with 192 rooms that was forced to close during the pandemic.

“It was really heartbreaking to shut it down. But we opened and reopened again June 25, 2021. I was really pleasantly surprised by the amount of reservations we got from our guests that were coming back,” Cohen said.

During the 15 month shutdown, more than 50% of the staff was furloughed. For guest services agent Howard Singh, that meant some economically lean times.

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“With the government assistance, and, you know, we’ve also, we were responsible, financially responsible before, both combined, allowed us to stay afloat,” Singh said.

He says he was thrilled to get the call that brought him back.

“I feel excited to be back to be part of this family, again, which includes the hotel management, my coworkers, our guests, know that we appreciate so much,” Singh said.

Time New York is currently at about 51% occupancy.

The Hotel Association of New York says overall, hotels are at about 64%, compared to 90% in September of 2019. Average room rates are $140, compared to $273 in that same time period. But for hotels, it’s about more than just room occupancy.

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“We’ve done, really, opening parties for for Broadway plays,” said Nathan Goodman, vice president of sales and marketing of the Dream Hotel Group for Time New York. “We’ve held countless cocktail receptions and things after the shows. We’ve done press [events] for many other Broadway plays. So it’s a big part of a very community driven situation here in Midtown.”

Goodman says signs of life are positive, fiscally and emotionally

“Just seeing that – the leisure travelers walking around and grabbing breakfast. To be able to see that some of the students going into the offices that reopened already. That’s a big, big, big indicator of the city really starting to have a resurgence. And I think Broadway just really puts a cap on the excitement,” he said.

This excitement is certainly felt by Theater District restaurants. William Gallagher is the executive chef at Becco.

“With the return of Broadway, how are you feeling in this moment?” James asked.

“Feeling great, happy. It’s coming back. Bruce came back in July… he gave us a boost. And now, with this opening on September 14, we’re actually open that day. We’re five days prior to that, but now we open six days,” Gallagher said.

In April 2020, pedestrian traffic in Times Square was down 90% to around 33,000 people a day. Lately, it’s over 250,000.

One Theater District garage went from nine employees to four and has been closed on the weekends. They’re hoping this reopening means more open days, and returning workers for them too.

But, at the end of the day, it comes down to the people, vaccinated, and filling restaurant seats, hotel rooms, and maybe most importantly, rows in the theater.

“We saw ‘Waitress’ last night. We wanted to see it again tonight,” said David Owns of Allentown, Penn. “We love Broadway.”

“I’m an actress. So, my whole life. It’s in my blood. But even that wasn’t clear. Because all of the theater makes you feel alive, right?” said New York City resident Victoria Hale.

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Here’s one more number to consider: Taking all this business into consideration, Broadway contributed an estimated $14.66 billion to the economy of New York City in the 2018-19 season.

Cory James