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New York City's High Line Reopens In A Potential Boost To Local Business

Chelsea business owners hope the reopening of the popular elevated park will bring more foot traffic back to the neighborhood.
Chelsea business owners hope the reopening of the popular elevated park will bring more foot traffic back to the neighborhood.

As New York City's COVID-19 numbers improve, more and more of the city is reopening. The High Line opens Thursday with ticketed entry. It's one of the first big attractions to reopen in the city.

The High Line used to be an elevated train track. Now it's a park with a paved walkway, benches, greenery, and art exhibits. When you walk north on the High Line, you can see the Hudson River to your left, and the neighborhood of Chelsea to your right. Usually, Chelsea's streets are bustling — packed with people waiting in line for restaurants and shopping at boutiques. That hasn't been the case lately.

"It feels like a Sunday evening," said Ivon Rodriguez on a summer weeknight. Rodriguez biked to Chelsea from Brooklyn for a few reasons — to get some exercise, to explore a neighborhood he hadn't been to for awhile and to get some jerk chicken wings from a Jamaican restaurant his friend said they had to try.

His friend, Michael Fenton, thinks the High Line reopening will bring other adventurers like them to the neighborhood. "It'll mean more business, so it'll likely help these folks do a lot better."

Inside the Jamaican restaurant Rodriguez and Fenton ordered from, Kone Soumalia is managing takeout and pickup. He says business has been slow for the restaurant and for nearby businesses. He thinks the High Line's reopening will send a message: Chelsea is open.

Joanne Kwong is familiar with the struggle for customers during the pandemic. She runs Pearl River Mart, a department store that sells Asian decor and art. Her store has a location in Chelsea.

Joanne Kwong is familiar with the struggle for customers during the pandemic. She runs Pearl River Mart, a department store that sells Asian decor and art. Her store has a location in Chelsea.
/ Camille Petersen
Joanne Kwong is familiar with the struggle for customers during the pandemic. She runs Pearl River Mart, a department store that sells Asian decor and art. Her store has a location in Chelsea.

She knows the neighborhood's traffic patterns well — many customers are tourists or employees from nearby workspaces. Because of the pandemic, both of those sources of customers have dried up. And when Kwong tried to reopen her Chelsea location, there just weren't enough customers to justify the expense.

But Kwong is hopeful that the High Line reopening will bring a new customer to Chelsea — the New Yorker with cabin fever.

"I think when people leave their homes now, if you're going to go to the trouble of putting on the mask, putting on the gloves, getting on the subway, I think you want to make a day of it. So if there's an attraction, like the High Line, I think people want to spend a little bit of time there," said Kwong.

She's hoping High Line visitors will stay to eat, shop and spend money in Chelsea.

Jonathan Bowles directs the Center for an Urban Future, an economic think tank focused on New York City. He says surges in coronavirus cases across the country and the world mean tourists are not coming back anytime soon. Local businesses are counting on New Yorkers venturing out to other neighborhoods — basically, come for the High Line, stay for the jerk chicken wings and Asian decor.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.