On Sunday, a local radio host and activist, Curtis Sliwa, defiantly waded into the water in violation of de Blasio’s orders. Sliwa, who is running for mayor in 2021, was admonished but not removed, and he appeared to be an outlier. Helped by a Saturday washout and cooler-than-normal temperatures on Sunday and Monday, the mayor’s policy appeared to have the intended effect. No huge throngs challenged the swimming ban or dared the police to haul them out of the water.
A pair of police officers on the boardwalk, masks hanging around their necks, told me there had been no such incidents on Monday. When I asked whether they were prepared to pull swimmers out of the water, they shrugged and said they had received no instructions on how to enforce the mayor’s ban. Lucky for them: Both officers were dressed in their standard uniform, and neither seemed eager to make a Baywatch-style dash into the cold late-spring ocean. “We’ll cross that bridge if we get to it,” one of them told me, asking not to be named because he was not authorized to speak with reporters. “I guess we’ll see on July Fourth. That’ll be the real test.”
If the cops had it easy, Coney Island’s restaurants and food vendors suffered. “The businesses did not do very well,” Alexandra Silversmith, the executive director of the Alliance for Coney Island, the neighborhood business association, told me.
The partial opening seemed to expose another tension in the broader debate over easing restrictions on business: Just as policies vary by state and region, so do the cultural attitudes of would-be consumers, between those clamoring to reclaim a normal summer and those who are willing, so far, only to dip a toe in the sand. While foot traffic on the Coney Island boardwalk was decent, Silversmith noted that most visitors weren’t willing to stop and have a beer or a bite. “You have to take off your mask to eat,” she said. “You have to find a spot safe enough.”
For beach towns that depend on commerce—not just short sandy walks or bike rides—and for states that rely on summer tourism for tax revenue, the ripple effect of a skittish public over the next three months could be devastating.
Read: How New York explains the other 49 states
Jimmy Kokotas owns Tom’s Restaurant, an 80-year-old Brooklyn diner that opened a second location on the Coney Island boardwalk in 2012. “I would think we barely covered payroll,” Kokotas told me yesterday morning. He guessed that his sales were 50 to 60 percent down from a normal Memorial Day weekend with mediocre weather, and 90 percent off a warm, sunny holiday.
The months ahead are equally uncertain for Kokotas, just as they are for businesses in beach and resort towns across the country. He secured a Paycheck Protection Program loan from the federal government, but is looking for more aid from the city. Tom’s is more fortunate than most in one respect: Unlike many other restaurants, Kokotas has enough room to space out tables once more restrictions are eased. But it could be several more weeks, or longer, before New York City allows any restaurant to more fully reopen. Most Coney Island businesses, Kokotas told me, renewed year-long leases early in 2020, just before the pandemic hit. “Our rents are due, and we have no sales,” he said.