MLB lockdown hits businesses in Yankee Stadium area still reeling from pandemic

Months of terror turned to desperation for small businesses in the South Bronx on Tuesday night when Major League Baseball announced the start of the baseball season would be delayed, after failing to resolve a labor dispute from a year within the deadline that the management had imposed on itself.

League players have been locked out by team owners since their collective bargaining agreement expired on Dec. 2, and MLB Spring Training was postponed since February 14.

Like many businesses in the area, Ty Robinson orients the schedule of his bar The Dugout on River Avenue around the league schedule, only opening on days when the Bronx Bombers play home games.

With many fans away for most of the past two years due to the pandemic, Robinson isn’t sure what the future holds for the business he’s grown over the past 18 years.

“I’m in the fight of my life right now,” the 57-year-old said. He was already struggling to pay the restaurant’s rent for the past year and fighting an eviction case from the landlord of the building. Robinson was counting on a regular season — and a return of pre-pandemic crowds — to pull him out of the red, he said.

For months, the 161st Street Business Improvement District, which represents many of the bars, restaurants and souvenir shops around Yankee Stadium, has been making direct appeals to MLB and the Yankees. to reach an agreement with the MLB Players’ Association, the union representing the players, and end the second-longest lockout in league history, and the first in 27 years.

Yankee Stadium faces an upset third season.
Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

“New York is recovering from two years of COVID and cannot afford to lose any part of this upcoming season,” BID executive director Cary Goodman said in an open letter to Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner on Tuesday.

“Our gift shops, sports bars and restaurants are ready to join you in cheering on our home team. Our businesses have suffered enormous economic damage over the past two seasons. Many cannot survive a third year of uncertainty,” he wrote.

A Yankees spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

“Some of us just won’t make it”

Tuesday announcement by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred follows the breakdown of negotiations between the league and the union representing the players. It was the sport’s first work stoppage in nearly 30 years since a lockout turned into a strike that canceled the 1994 season and delayed the next.

Talks began last April to forge a new collective bargaining agreement for the players’ union, with management and athletes at odds over key issues, from players’ minimum wages to the size of a bonus pool for players before that they are not eligible for salary arbitration, and new constraints on team salary expenses, NPR reported.

If talks resume soon and owners and players agree on a new contract, the Yankees are set to play their first home game on April 7 against rival Boston Red Sox.

In the meantime, local business owners are uncertain about their future. Yosef Abbadi, who runs Ballpark Sport Shop on River Avenue, noted that stadiums were closed to fans in 2020 and did not open to full capacity in the 2021 season until July, 1st.

“I can’t say how players should feel and what they get, but I know players are like employees and they have the right to get what they deserve,” he said. Abbadi said. Ball players, he added, “are those who fill [teamowners’] pockets and without the players these owners and the commissioner are nothing – and without the fans we are nothing, because our business comes from the fans.

A restaurant near Yankee Stadium was closed on March 2, 2022.

A closed restaurant near Yankee Stadium.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Abbadi, whose business was previously under threat of being scrapped in 2019 merchandising agreement with Nike which excluded local souvenir shops, urged the league to strike a deal with the player’s union – and not just because of its business interests.

“I’m a baseball fan. I want to enjoy it too, and MLB takes that away from us,” he said.

Robinson urged MLB to consider the effects of the lockout beyond the ball field, noting that “90%” of The Dugout’s revenue comes from home game crowds.

“I would like to ask – maybe do a tour of the neighborhood and talk to people in the neighborhood to see how the unopened stadium is affecting so many people in the neighborhood by these games not taking place,” he said. .

Robinson and Goodman noted that The Dugout is the only black-owned business in the area.

“Those of us who are seasonal, some of us just won’t make it,” Robinson said.

Around the corner from The Dugout is Yankee Tavern, a restaurant and bar that opened in 1927 and attracted the likes of Babe Ruth.

Although today it operates year-round, serving hungry fans as well as courthouse visitors two blocks from the Grand Concourse, owner Joe Bestone said “the heart of our businesses is the Yankee crowd “.

Yankee Tavern owner Joe Bestone said he fears a delay to opening day will hurt local businesses, March 2, 2022.

Yankee Tavern owner Joe Bestone says he’s worried a delay to opening day could hurt local businesses.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

As a restaurant, he said: “We are the one who serves the employees more than anyone, but again, there is no one here. It devastates the region.

Bestone, 67, said the business was still reeling from the pandemic, which had cost him nearly $1,000 a week in revenue, he said, despite his efforts to cut costs and reduce staff. He said he currently only has eight people on the payroll, half the size of his usual crew.

“That’s eight people out of work right now… It’s really a ripple effect,” he said. “It’s really, really difficult. We struggle to stay open, we don’t make money, we lose it. I still lose money.

Balls in the air

The future of hospitality workers at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field is also uncertain, whose seasonal employment is also at stake.

UNITE HERE Local 100, which represents workers at both stadiums, did not respond to a request for comment on the lockdown.

In one declaration in January, the national union – which represents workers at 21 ballparks – said it supported the Major League Baseball Players’ Association and its fight for a new contract.

“Our industries may differ, but our fight for a level playing field between owners and workers who generate owners’ wealth is the same. Team owners are billionaires, much like the companies we hire too,” the statement read.

The uncertain fate of a proposed arena next to Yankee Stadium for football team NYCFC, a venture involving the Yankees and City Football Group, which is controlled by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahan of Abu Dhabi, also weighs on the Bronx.

Last year, the Yankees and the city’s economic development corporation hit a dead end over the 5,000 parking spaces the Yankees say they owe. The project would also require the purchase and relocation of an elevator parts factory on East 153rd Street.

Former Mayor Bill de Blasio tosses the coin before the start of New York City FC's 2016 home opener.

Former Mayor Bill de Blasio tosses the coin before the start of New York City FC’s 2016 home opener.
Mayor’s Office of Photography/Michael Appleton

Yankees President Randy Levine said the project dead last summer – but after NYCFC won their first Major League Soccer championship in December, then Mayor-elect Eric Adams said his administration would “re-engage” the discussions for the new football stadium.

City records show that an NYCFC lobbyist interacted with Adams last fall in his capacity as Brooklyn borough president, to discuss the “real estate determination” and “issues related to a project of sports facilities for professional football”.

A spokesperson for Adams did not respond to THE CITY’s request for comment.

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