Bronx businesses call on Yankees for help in the midst of pandemic

What you should know Baseball in the Bronx is usually big business for shops and restaurants outside the historic stadium, but with fans trapped at home by the coronavirus pandemic, those establishments are not sure they will survive. Desperate for help, some are even asking the Yankees themselves for help. A protest is being organized in front of Yankee Stadium before Thursdays game, hoping to pressure the club to provide direct assistance to the shops and bars that usually benefit from the crowds of fans who will not come to the Bronx this summer.

NEW YORK – The manager is behind the counter at Ballpark Sports Shop on River Avenue with fully stocked striped shirts on the shelves around him. The inventory is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, but on this day, he will be lucky enough to sell some hats for $20.

Just around the corner from 161st Street, the owner of Yankee Tavern sits in his empty dining room. He has served some 2,000 people on game days in his 93-year-old establishment. That night, he had 20 sitting under a tent outside.

Meanwhile, the lights inside Yankee Stadium were shining brightly. The baseball stadium usually brings almost 50,000 fans per night to the Bronx. This summer, it has become little more than a large television studio.

What is happening is devastating, said Yankee Tavern owner Joe Bastone.

Baseball in the Bronx is usually big business for shops and restaurants outside the historic stadium, but with fans trapped at home by the coronavirus pandemic, those establishments are not sure they will survive. Desperate for help, some are even asking the Yankees themselves for help.

Everything will disappear unless someone helps, said Cary Goodman, executive director of the business district cooperative known as the 161st Street Business Improvement District (BID).

Many souvenir shops and sports bars in the area havent bothered to reopen since the coronavirus forced their closure in March, and those that have have barely attracted any customers.

Sam Abbadi, the manager of the Ballpark Sports Shop, leaned over the counter before a Mets-Yankees game last month and said he hadnt made a single sale all day.

To be honest with you, were in trouble, Abbadi said. Everyone is. All the sports bars, the souvenir shops, the restaurants in the area. All the businesses at (street) 161, without the Yankees, are nothing.

Yankee Tavern has been a little busier, but the perspective is essentially the same.

Yankee Tavern has existed since 1927 and was once a watering hole for the greats of the Yankee Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. But during a recent Red Sox-Yankees game, Bastone estimated that he was making about 5% of his normal business.

Yankee Tavern has spent its $31,000 in Paycheck Protection Program loans and already owes more than $150,000 in back rent, Bastone said. The longtime owner is skeptical that limited outdoor service can keep the oldest drinking establishment in the Bronx afloat.

We are trying to go for 100, said Bastone. Keeping hope that we will make it.

Goodman, who has led the 161st Street IDB since 2009, believes the Yankees should step in and help community businesses.

They have done it before. When Nike became the official supplier of Major League uniforms during the off-season, souvenir shops outside Yankee Stadium feared they would not be able to acquire merchandise to sell as part of the new deal. Goodman shared the concern with the Yankees, and the team intervened to ensure that the shops continued to have access to official MLB jerseys.

We were ecstatic, but it turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory, Goodman said. They asked for hundreds of thousands of dollars in merchandise and were forced to keep it.

After efforts to get emergency grants in the city for shops and bars largely failed, Goodman said he has approached the Yankees twice, hoping to get help to help nearby souvenir shops and bars.

The baseball club has been active in local coronavirus relief efforts. It has worked with the Bronx Chamber of Commerce to provide assistance to small businesses, contributing $75,000 for emergency relief grants, helping organize free legal aid, and launching a virtual town hall to educate local business owners on how best to deal with the pandemic.

We have made substantial resource contributions totaling millions of dollars that have been dedicated to supporting COVIDs pandemic-related efforts, said Brian Smith, senior vice president of corporate and community relations for the Yankees.

We have worked non-stop, day in and day out, with our neighbours and viable partners to get things done, he added.

Still, Goodman has asked Mayor Bill De Blasio to help the team contribute more to the citys coffers, and is organizing a protest in front of Yankee Stadium before Thursdays game, hoping to pressure the club to provide direct assistance to the shops and bars that usually benefit from the crowds of fans who will not be coming to the Bronx this summer. Goodman estimates that saving businesses along 161st Street could cost up to $10 million.

That would stop the bleeding of all the small businesses that depend on their business passing through the stadium, Goodman said.