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Citizens Union

After the Theater Strike

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 said 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?


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 Newsday.


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 local businesses.

"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 season, the 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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