These are tough times, but we’ve gotten through tough times before. Here’s a story written in October, 2020, when we faced a global pandemic.
By Chris Breslin
With the air now cool and crisp and the leaves changing colors, the Upper West Side usually has the New York City Marathon to look forward to on the first Sunday in November. Potential runners and businesses alike were disappointed in June of this year when the New York Road Runners, the Mayor’s office, and the Governor’s office together decided it was impossible for the race to take place this year due to the coronavirus.
When I spoke with the Chairman of the Board of New York Road Runners, George Hirsch, he said, “It’s a huge loss for the city with an economic impact of over $450 million, and nowhere will that loss be felt more than the Upper West Side. It is truly heartbreaking.”
This year would have been the 50th anniversary of the New York City Marathon with over 52,000 runners entered. Last year, more than two-and-a-half million spectators lined the course, which spans all five boroughs.
The Marathon brings energy and economy to the Upper West Side as everyone spills out onto Columbus Avenue, Amsterdam Avenue, and Broadway after the race. There are also the pre-race dinners the night before where everyone loads up on pasta, but the post-race celebratory dinners are resplendent with runners and their families who come from over 140 countries to celebrate this day and the restaurants are jammed.
Ardian, the manager of Francesco’s Pizza on Columbus Avenue, who has worked Marathon Sunday for the last 20 years told me, “It is one of our best days of the year.” I asked him how he felt about the Marathon being cancelled this year and he said, “Everyone has to be safe, but we are sure going to miss it. I hope that next year it will be back. It’s a very hard time for everyone right now.”
Over on West 72nd Street I spoke to John, a bartender at The Emerald Inn, and he said “Marathon Sunday is the second biggest day of the year for us next to St. Paddy’s Day.” Nothing could be bigger than St. Patrick’s Day for this establishment.
I have run the Marathon eight times and it is simply magical. It’s almost like the Upper West Side has its own special holiday on this day. One of my favorite places to get a cup of tea after the race and watch all the runners wrapped in their foil blankets is The Muffin Shop on Columbus Avenue and West 70th Street.
Throughout the pandemic The Muffin Shop stayed open. I dropped in recently for one of their treats and spoke with Ali who is the owner. Ali told me, “It’s a very big loss that there will be no marathon this year. I do as much business in one day on Marathon Sunday as I do in one whole week, but we have to understand what is going on and be safe for everyone.”
Just up the block, Nicky “Meatballs,” Marmando, who owns Polpette on West 71st Street and gets a huge marathon crowd at his restaurant each year, said, “The Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of the Marathon weekend is the biggest grossing week of the year for my restaurant. I just hope another round of stimulus comes through to help all the businesses out.”
The Marathon has certainly been a day for everyone on the Upper West Side to look forward to each year. As for next year, George Hirsch explained, “We are very hard at work for the 2021 New York City Marathon. It means so much to us to bring the Marathon back and we will, and it will be exciting, but the people’s safety comes first.” Here’s hoping for next year!