More than 230 pandemic-chic women in $1,500 skirts and $200 jeans picnicked in Central Park. Titans dined at Amaranth, Fleming and Sette Mezzo. And every afternoon, well-dressed children flooded out of their private schools.

For the past two months, New Yorkers have returned from the Hamptons and have sought to reclaim their city with familiar rituals, showing some of the ties that bind. In September, there was promise. Joggers, strollers, doormen, begonias and then mums offered a sense of normalcy. There was even a new location of the beloved Butterfield market to check out.

Their return has done little to stem the economic devastation caused by the virus. There are long lines at Upper East Side soup kitchens and blocks-full of empty storefronts. Small businesses are closing. Apartments are empty and return to work plans have sputtered. And winter is coming, with schools finalizing remote plans. Some of those who came back are already planning their exits. Seaman Schepps closed after 60 years on Park Avenue. A note on the door directed customers to call the Nantucket and Palm Beach locations.

‘Too Gentrified’
Rachelle Hruska reopened her Lingua Franca boutique on Madison Avenue in September, selling embroidered cashmere. Back from Montauk with her two boys in school, she called outdoor dining “old New York, but chicer” and said if the city lost billionaires, she wouldn’t mind.

“Maybe we got a little too gentrified and we’re heading back toward a little more funkiness, which, to be honest, I would welcome, especially raising children,” Hruska said. “We have friends who are writers, they are looking for apartments for the first time. I’m so happy. Those are the people that I want living here.”

Still, she acknowledged the losses. “The thing that I’m missing is you don’t see as many businessmen on their phones,” she said.

Indeed, more dads showed up for school pick-ups because they’re working from home. Only 15% of office workers are projected to return by the end of this year, according to a Partnership for New York City survey of major employers in Manhattan over the past two weeks. So far, 10% of Manhattan workers have returned, up from 8% in August.

The picture for retail is bleak. While Hruska said sales at her original store on Bleecker Street have continued to rebound, her Madison Avenue outpost has remained quiet.

For some, the window of recovery is already closing. Cold weather is here, Covid cases are up.

“Last week was the big shift,” said Aida Bicaj, who charges as much as $2,000 for a facial at her spa on East 67th Street. “Everyone is saying, ‘I want to keep on coming in once a week, but I’m moving to Palm Beach.’ Nobody wants to be in New York because of the taxes. Who’s going to eat outside with the cold weather?”

The election is another snag. “I had four to five people cancel for next week saying, ‘I’m so scared of the rioting, whoever wins.’”

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