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New York City is seeing business as usual, but rising COVID-19 cases are worrisome

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

New York City is glittering again - from the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center to lavish displays in department store windows. But there is a note of urgency, too. With the unpredictability of the virus, New York businesses are feeling pressure to make money from every last sale this holiday season. Camille Petersen reports.

CAMILLE PETERSEN, BYLINE: Last year, the Union Square Holiday Market was closed. But this year, shoppers are back.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Welcome back.

PETERSEN: They're winding through the outdoor maze of pop-up stores and visiting stands selling truffle oil, gems, spices, handmade jewelry and specialty hot sauces.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: The blueberry maple habanero sauce. Which one? Top - the top right, or the top left?

PETERSEN: A few blocks away, Julie Gaines surveys her eccentric holiday collection. She's owned Fishs Eddy, a home goods store, for 35 years. Inside the sprawling store, there are stacks of mugs from diners all over the country, a section of mismatched cups, plates with cowboys and hotel logos and names.

JULIE GAINES: This is find your plate at the table. It's all different names like Joe (ph), Lucky (ph), Jake (ph), Moe (ph), John (ph)...

PETERSEN: (Laughter).

GAINES: ...McKinsey (ph).

PETERSEN: Gaines says November and December normally make up 30 to 40% of yearly revenue.

GAINES: It's like the five minutes we can pay bills. You know, January 1, it's (vocalizing).

(LAUGHTER)

GAINES: You know?

PETERSEN: Yeah.

GAINES: It's down again.

PETERSEN: Gaines says last year's holiday season was nearly nonexistent. The store relies on in-person shoppers, especially tourists. She's seen more and more of them over the past month.

GAINES: It's the closest to normal that we've felt in a long time. Everyone's out and about, and it's, you know - no pun intended - the more, the merrier.

PETERSEN: At Rockefeller Center, home of the iconic, towering Christmas tree, restaurant owner Eli Sussman is delighted to see not a trickle of potential customers, but crowds.

ELI SUSSMAN: They're coming to shop, see the tree, see the skating rink. I'm seeing, you know, happy people come through the doors.

PETERSEN: For Sussman, this is a rare moment of opportunity. He opened his Mediterranean restaurant, Samesa, in the spring. At the time, customers hadn't returned, so it was a risky bet. Now he's excited, but he wonders how long the crowds are going to stick around.

SUSSMAN: Everyone is really worried about there being, like, a winter surge and what that's going to mean for us.

PETERSEN: For New York City businesses, the stakes are high, so they're holding tight to this glittering, joyful moment and fearful of what winter might look like. For NPR News, I'm Camille Petersen in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WONDERFUL CHRISTMASTIME")

PAUL MCCARTNEY: (Singing) The mood is right. The spirit's up. We're here tonight. And that's enough. Simply having... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.