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Lifting COVID restrictions opens up local economy

Destination Niagara USA

The good news is that the local economy is improving and more tourists are coming to town. The bad news is there is a shortage of workers to staff businesses and serve those tourists.

Even before Gov. Andrew Cuomo made it official Tuesday that the state had moved past the target of 70% of adults getting that first COVID-19 vaccination, things were looking better. However, that 70% target eliminates most of the health and safety restrictions of the pandemic, meaning even more freedom to conduct business.

With the better weather, you can travel down a commercial street like Elmwood Avenue or Hertel Avenue and see restaurant patios full. More theaters will be reopening and more hotel rooms will be filled.

"We saw on Saturday evening of Memorial Day weekend 97% hotel occupancy, where the national average was 82%-83%, well above the national average," said Destination Niagara USA President and CEO John Percy. "The nightly rate that night, the average daily rate, was over $226, compared to a national average of $152."

Visit Buffalo Niagara President and CEO Patrick Kaler said the region is seeing lots of people from New York City.

"It's probably a greater emphasis on that outdoor recreation, again, where people are wanting to get out, wanting to get out of their basement and travel," Kaler said. "But they still have the pandemic in the back of their mind. So they are looking for those type of experiences where they can distance from other individuals that they don't know."

Even so, Buffalo Niagara Partnership Government Affairs Vice President Grant Loomis said there is a caution.

"The mask mandate is still in place for those who are unvaccinated, per CDC guidance. So that's not done away with, with what the governor announced today," Loomis said, "and private employers can also choose to continue to follow certain restrictions if they choose."

Cuomo’s announcement has changed nothing at Abilene Bar & Lounge, whose doors have been closed on and off during the pandemic. Owner Danny Deutsch said he will continue to require proof of vaccination.

“I respect all viewpoints on the matter,” Deutsch said. “I just know what’s right for me and what’s right, I think, for my business. And I think I’m doing the right thing for the majority, or the overwhelming amount of our customers, both past and prospective customers.”

He pointed to venues throughout Western New York that are now booking bands. Dates are appearing at the large amphitheaters, but it’s more obvious at smaller venues. Local bands are finding work that wasn’t available a few short months ago, while big names are returning to New York stages.

New York state has started the second phase of a $40 million “I LOVE NY” campaign, meant to convince a pandemic-weary population to vacation in the Empire State. Two new spots have hit airwaves on TV and online, highlighting places like Niagara Falls and Letchworth State Park.

Cuomo said tourism is probably the quickest way to invigorate an economy.

"We’re very proud of what we have in upstate New York, and put that together with the new advantage of the super low COVID-positivity rate in the state, and I think it’s going to be a natural tourist destination for people,” Cuomo said. “We just have to get the word out."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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