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Broadway's comeback brings back business

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And finally today, some of the biggest Broadway shows have reopened over the past few weeks. And this fall, more and more marquees will light up. It'll be the return of a billion-dollar industry in New York City, and it's not just theaters that are benefiting. Camille Petersen has more

CAMILLE PETERSEN, BYLINE: At Seasons Floral Design Studio, it feels like opening night at the theater.

GERALD PALUMBO: I'm so sorry about this. It's - we're a little crazy. Here, take this one to Eleven Madison Avenue, please.

PETERSEN: Gerald Palumbo, the owner of Seasons, and his staff take phone and walk-in orders.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: OK, great. Two of those, you said?

PETERSEN: They shuffle across the tile floor in an energetic choreography, grabbing pops of autumn colors for flower arrangements.

PALUMBO: See what we've got for tomorrow.

PETERSEN: Palumbo says over the past month, revenue has increased 20% as the first few shows have opened. The industry is one of Seasons' biggest customers. Theaters order flowers as decorations, and customers send flowers to actors, musicians, makeup artists, everyone involved in a Broadway show.

PALUMBO: If your sister is opening up on Broadway, you better be sending her flowers for her opening night.

PETERSEN: When Broadway shut down, Palumbo says business was cut in half. What happens on Broadway doesn't stay on Broadway.

PALUMBO: If you're not coming to the theater, you're not going to the restaurants. Then the hotels are suffering. And then the parking garages are suffering, and the taxi drivers are suffering. So when Broadway is hurting, we're hurting.

PETERSEN: Scott Hart is part of that Broadway ecosystem, too. He owns the Midtown restaurant, 44 and X.

Tell me about what the pandemic has been like for you.

SCOTT HART: Oh, the pandemic? Oh, I hadn't noticed.

PETERSEN: Hart says pre-theater diners used to set the pace of the restaurant. It was all about getting them to the show on time.

HART: By the time 7:30, 7:45 came around, we all took a sigh of relief and might have my first drink of the evening (laughter) like Tequila Mockingbird.

PETERSEN: After the pre-theater rush, Hart says local residents and office workers would fill tables, followed by the post-theater crowd. So far, he's noticed a small bump in business from Broadway's return - 5 to 6%.

HART: I think that we need to give things a little bit more time.

PETERSEN: Hart is optimistic that revenue will keep growing little by little as more shows return. And there are indicators this is happening. Tom Harris is the president of Times Square Alliance.

TOM HARRIS: We've really seen an uptick in pedestrian counts.

PETERSEN: And in local businesses reopening. But Harris says the effects will be felt beyond Midtown.

HARRIS: Broadway is a driver of the economy. There are 97,000 jobs that are generated from Broadway.

PETERSEN: As those jobs return, more people will have more money to put into New York's economy. But Broadway's full recovery relies on big parts of its customer base coming back, says Barbara Denham, an economist at the consulting firm Oxford Economics. Office workers, commuters, business travelers and tourists need to spend like they used to.

BARBARA DENHAM: You need a critical mass, and we don't have that critical mass yet.

PETERSEN: Denham says Broadway and the jobs and businesses that rely on it might be one of the slowest parts of the city's economy to recover. But she says the joyful return of dozens of shows is a promising start. For NPR News, I'm Camille Petersen in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEW YORK, NEW YORK")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) I'll make a brand new start of it in old New York. If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.