By Scott Etkin
Early in the pandemic, West Side Rag started a running list of restaurants that were open for delivery or take-out, which a couple of generous readers turned into a custom Google Map. We’ve moved beyond the takeout-only days, but now another reader has sent us, over the transom, a fascinating new map based on WSR’s weekly Openings & Closings feature.
Robert Adelson, an Upper West Sider who works as a data scientist at a health tech company, made this Google Map of openings and closings showing what’s happened in the neighborhood over the past three years. On the map, more than 800 entries are divided into four categories: Openings, Planned [to Open], Temporarily Closed, and Closings. (You can toggle these on and off using the check boxes on the left.) Business relocations show up as a closing at one address and opening at the new one.
Adelson, 27, moved to the Upper West Side (98th Street) in April 2021. Before that, he lived in a few different neighborhoods, mainly in Upper Manhattan. He said the idea for the map came from reading a comment on an Openings & Closings column, which speculated that certain parts of the neighborhood get fewer new businesses than others.
“I figured, ‘Oh, you know, it’s probably not that difficult to figure out if that’s true, or if that’s some bias, or if that’s a chunk of time where things are just opening one place and they observe that it’s not true in the long term,’” Adelson said in a phone interview with West Side Rag.
Adelson said he hasn’t yet analyzed trends revealed by the map – so far he’s just been focused on getting it up and running. And he cautions that any analysis needs to take into account neighborhood context. “Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint trends, partially because I need to have a better understanding of [which areas] are residential,” he said. “If I see a gap in openings, it could just be because there’s no storefronts there, or there’s just longstanding [businesses that haven’t closed].”
Adelson made the map over the course of about a week using Python, a programming language that helps to automate tasks. The program he built “scrapes” the West Side Rag for words like “opening” or “open,” and then pulls out the name of the business, the address, and when the change happened. “It’s kind of a little trial and error,” he said.
The map updates automatically when he re-runs the script, along with a little manual maintenance. He estimated that it’s around 95% accurate. “I guess the goal is not for everything you post to be perfectly complete,” he said. “More to get the point across in a timely manner.” The same link (above) will still work whenever the map is updated.
The map could evolve over time, depending on what would be useful to the community (and Robert’s availability). One potential addition would be to categorize the businesses (e.g, restaurant, drug store, etc.). Another would be to include phone numbers. Please feel free to share your other suggestions in the comments.
Editor’s note: Coverage in “Openings & Closings” is not perfectly distributed but we do our best to capture as much as we can from West 59th to West 110th Street. Most entries originate as tips from readers, so please send any retail happenings you observe to email@example.com (with photos if possible).
To receive our free email newsletter, click here.