When Ruby Hsu planned her trip to New York City during Thanksgiving week, she,
like many tourists, also planned to see a Broadway show.
"I was very excited to finally get to see 'Wicked.'" Hsu said. "I
was hoping that the strike would be over by the time I got there."
Instead, the San Francisco resident arrived on November 17, at the height of
the 19-day strike on Broadway. Contract negotiations between The
League of American Theatres and Producers and the stagehands union had shut
down most Broadway shows, including "Wicked."
"It ruined my whole week," Hsu said. "And I hate New York."
An overreaction? Perhaps. But Hsu was not alone. Travelers on Jetblue Airlines
reportedly began canceling their trips to the city after learning the lights
had gone dark on the Great White Way. "We've seen a slight increase in
cancellation [of flights to New York] over the last week," the airline
spokeswoman Alison Eshelman told
the Daily News.
A few days after the walkout, the league said the strike would cost the city
$17 million per day and would wipe out Thanksgiving week revenue, the second
highest grossing period after Christmas.
"While this is a private labor matter, the economic impact is very public
and will be felt far beyond the theatres closed today," Mayor Michael Bloomberg
in his statement.
Now that Broadway is back, skeptics question whether the estimates of the strike's
economic impact was overblown. Did the walkout really hurt the city? Is Broadway,
for that matter, crucial to the city's economy?
THE THANKSGIVING STRIKE
Months before visiting New York City, Bryan Vavra decided not to go see the
touring production of "Avenue Q" that finally made its way to his
hometown, Houston, Texas.
"I wanted to see the show on Broadway. This is where the best of the best
perform," he said of his plan during Thanksgiving week. "It was just
unforntunate that they were on strike the few days I was in New York City."
After arriving in the city, Vavra changed his plan and went to see "The
Ritz," one of a few Broadway shows that remained open during the strike.
Vavra's story is an example of what some analysts had argued - that ticket holders
would spend their money on other forms of entertainment and so help lessen the
economic blow to the city.
The league's estimated cost of the strike has since been challenged. The Partnership
for New York City, a business group, said that the strike cost the city
$5 million a day, $12 million less than producers league projected. New York
City Comptroller William Thompson Jr. put
the final number at $2 million a day, based on survey data including total
spending on tickets, dining and shopping.
"The average theater ticket is about $76," Frank Braconi, chief economist
for the city's comptroller, told
Bloomberg News." We assume that that $76 is spent elsewhere in the
city, on other entertainments or shopping or whatever."
Rodney Tan of Astoria, Queens, an avid fan of opera, said that he was surprised
to find a full house on November 16 at a so-so production of "Cendrillon,'
a French version of Cinderella, at The New York City Opera.
"The opera was so bad," he said. "The only reason it's packed
here is because Broadway is closed."
During the last days of the strike, public officials started changing their
tune and were, by then, convinced that the overall impact on the rest of the
economy was relatively minor.
"This is not like Las Vegas where, if the gambling industry shut down,
there would be nothing to do here," George Fertitta, chief executive of
NYC & Company, the city's tourism agency, told
THE ECONOMIC STAGE
In the end, aside from Broadway producers who lost an estimated
$40 million in box-office revenue, the strike affected fewer people than
expected. The strike was "an unfortunate blip in a very successful time
in the City of New York," Fertitta said.
But some argue that Broadway is still crucial to the city's economy.
Last year alone Broadway brought in $5.3 billion to the New York City economy,
according to the league spokesperson. At least 45,000 full-time jobs depend
on Broadway - 13,000 employed directly by theaters and 32,000 people in related
"Broadway is our number one tourist magnet," Kathryn Wylde, president
of the Partnership for New York City told
the Daily News. Of the $11.53 million in tickets sold during the 2004-2005
most recent year for which statistics are available, 82 percent were
purchased by out-of-towners.
For a Broadway fan such as Vavra, nothing can come between him and the show
he wants to see. He hasn't ruled out another trip to the city or catching a touring production of "Avenue Q" in the future.
"I will see the show elsewhere," he said. "It's not often I go to New York."
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