While many remained closed or only open for takeout, certain Hyde Park restaurants, barbershops, shops and businesses opened with expanded services on June 3, as the city entered the next phase of life amid the coronavirus pandemic.
For Zoey Clayton-Lang, 21, the patio at Nella Pizza e Pasta, 1125 E. 55th St., presented the opportunity for a first legal drink at a restaurant, a lampone: raspberry liqueur and Prosecco. Her birthday passed amid the shutdown.
"It feels like a dream," she said.
The sidewalk seating at Pizza Capri, 1501 E 53rd St., was still full at 2:45. Max Taleb said he was happy customers had returned and the restaurant was following state and federal public health authorities' advice. Guests dine on disposable plates and cups, with soft drinks coming in cans — changes that will last to the foreseeable future.
"It's been really a good start," he said. Opening the dining room will greatly help business, but so would closing 53rd Street to vehicle traffic to allow for outdoor dining, as has been proposed. Only one South Side stretch — two blocks of 75th Street in Chatham — are included in the city's pilot.
"I think it will be the greatest idea they could come out with. What is good for the North Side should be good for the South Side," Taleb said. "We should have the same thing."
For Leslie Ramsey and Kiesha Nobles, dining al fresco at Pizza Capri was a much-anticipated occasion to catch up face-to-face for the first time in months. The two were sitting only a few feet apart and had their masks off as they ate, but Nobles said they felt safe, being outside.
"You really miss being together,” said Ramsey. “It's nice that we can be outside, but it's bigger that we're together.”
Real estate never came to a total halt during the shutdown — Mac Properties, 1364 E. 53rd St., conducted virtual apartment tours, for instance — but Madelaine Gerbaulet-Vanasse at the Meliora Real Estate Group, 1007 E. 53rd St., said demand was way down in March and April. Agents came in and out of the store, but office manager Kimmy Wehr, who has asthma, had been out for two months for fear of the coronavirus.
"She's talking to her doctor to see when she can come back," Gerbaulet-Vanasse said. "But I'm trying to be open. It's certainly the first day that people can come into the office. … I think people are eager to find something now when they haven't been able to look for awhile.
Barbershops and beauty salons, however, were open wide to meet the demand. Robert Hunter at Brown's Master Barber Shop, 1011 E. 53rd St., said customer demand had been high: "You see all that hair on the floor? They're glad to get back here. They've been coming since seven o'clock this morning."
Before the unrest, Deidra Muhammad, who runs 40/40 Nails out of Sola Salon, 1614 E. 53rd St., said she had been able to withstand the shutdown because of her other work as a pharmacy technician and because the salon cancelled rent, She said she would space clients further apart in order to thoroughly clean between appointments for the next couple months.
She is thinking about transitioning to doing nails full-time once her clientele builds back up again. "I actually enjoy it," she said. "I get calls and text messages all the time asking when the salon is going to be open and when I'm going to be back. And I just tell them I haven't opened my books yet. But once I start opening my books, I'll start writing them back."
At Stamp'lays Executive Salon Boutique, 1371 E. 53rd St., Kimberley Stampley said business at her front-of-house shop had been slow on the first day back, but the braiding studio in back saw high demand.
"People are coming by, just giving us well wishes, glad that nothing happened to the store and that we're still here," she said. "We just really took the time to put everything back, because we took everything down. … We had things up, but then when we heard about how they were looting, we took everything out of the windows."
Before reopening, Gilda Norris of GILDA Designer Thrift Boutique, 1703 E. 55th St., said wearing a face mask and frequent disinfecting would not be a problem.
"I will comply with everything that they said, I'm just going to have to do it in a smart way," she said. "What made my store different from a normal boutique is that I dry-clean every single thing, and if it doesn't require dry-cleaning, then I wash it in the washing machine. So everything is just like new."
Like Muhammad, an understanding landlord forgave a month of rent, though Norris also has had to dip into savings to keep the business afloat. After losing her father to COVID-19, she is eager to get back to work, touting her supply of sundresses as summer gets started.
"My engagement is really me and my engagement with my customers," Norris said. "I like to have a sense of community here. Not just selling items: I want this to be a place where the people in the neighborhood feel very comfortable coming to and look forward to coming here," she said. "I don't ever want the pandemic to take away my whole aesthetic of having a brick-and-mortar, and my whole aesthetic with a brick-and-mortar is not just offering vintage and fashion and art; it's also offering community."
Other businesses, however, remained closed, some because of the civil unrest. Amy Le took down the plywood she put up over the weekend at Saucy Porka, 1164 E. 55th St., but is holding off on beginning patio dining for the next few days.
Blaine E. Lee at 57th Street Wines, 1448 E. 57th St., closed his shop until Thursday “as a peaceful protest.”
“Protests are meant to cause discomfort and create unrest in order to bring awareness to a social cause,” he explained in a note posted to the front door, explaining that police have threatened his life 11 times over 35 years. “To clarify, this means a cop has put a gun to my head or said they would participate or stand by in my death.”
“I am sad for myself, my family and all Black people in the United States of America because we are not protected by the same laws as everyone else,” he wrote. “At 35, I have no reason to expect anything different. This lack of hope is the fertilizer for anger and grows violence. I hope you’ll take this moment, read my words and join in the effort to change our unequal justice system.”