By Gabriella Borter and Ross Kerber
NEW YORK/BOSTON (Reuters) – Orla Sweeney, manager of Connolly’s Irish pub in New York City, expected St. Patrick’s Day to once again be one of her bar’s most profitable days of the year.
Instead, the pub near Times Square was shuttered on Tuesday, like hundreds of thousands of dining establishments across the United States as state governments enforced closures to control the spread of COVID-19. Sweeney broke the news to her employees on Monday after Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered all restaurants to close that night, and they broke down in tears.
“They were like, ‘Well when can I come back to work?’ And I’m like, I’m not really sure,” Sweeney said. “In this industry, they live week to week, day to day, and right now they have nothing.”
There should have been corned beef, bagpipe music and parades, but the streets of major U.S. cities on Tuesday were mostly desolate as local authorities banned parades in cities from New York to San Francisco to slow the spread of the virus that has infected more than 4,400 Americans and killed at least 80.
Even in the holiday’s native country of Ireland, the government on Sunday ordered all pubs to shut down after videos of crowded pubs in Dublin ignited a social media uproar over the possibility of contagion.
Some persistent revelers took their festivities to social media, sharing videos of Irish step dancing on Twitter and posting photos of themselves holding beers in self-quarantine.
A few dozen members of the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade organizing committee donned green and marched with an American flag and bagpipes, following city guidelines to cap gatherings at 50 people.
One Boston Irish musician, Geoff Roman, had been slated to play two fiddle and guitar gigs at pubs on Tuesday before the closures. Instead, he holed up in his Whitman, Massachusetts, apartment and livestreamed half-hour music sessions on Facebook, playing between an Irish flag and a pint of Guinness.
“I’m trying to make people feel like it’s a pub,” Roman said.
Pubs and bars across the United States normally count on St. Patrick’s Day and the March Madness college basketball tournament to bring in a large part of their annual revenue.
U.S. consumers had been forecast to spend some $6 billion on St. Patrick’s Day celebrations this year, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation conducted in early February, before the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States in earnest.
The respiratory disease’s spread has left the hospitality industry in the lurch, as workers are barred from their jobs that involve person-to-person contact but have no livelihood without them.
Connolly’s in New York also feeds its staff daily, meaning that its laid-off staff must now find other ways to eat in addition to paying their bills.
“You’re trying to do the right thing by society, but people have to live,” Sweeney said. “I just hope that when it all calms down and settles, that we’ll have places to come back to.”
‘I WOULD HAVE BEEN HURTING’
Several Irish pubs had excess food ready for St. Patrick’s Day customers and needed to find other places for it when they heard the decisions by governors to close restaurants and bars just before the holiday.
Some, like Murphy’s Grand Irish Pub in Alexandria, Virginia, near Washington, were considering selling family meals for delivery, while others, like O’Shaughnessy’s in Chicago, sold off as much corned beef and cabbage as they could at a 25% discount on Monday before splitting up the leftovers and giving them to staff.
Nothing would stop Walter Szarowicz, 81, from getting a St. Patrick’s Day dinner for his wife who has Parkinson’s disease and whose birthday was Tuesday. He drove 30 minutes to Harrington’s Irish Deli on the north side of Chicago to get her corned beef.
Patrons were not permitted to eat at the deli on Tuesday under Chicago’s temporary health regulation, but a few were lined up for takeout.
“If I didn’t go today and get dinner, I would have been hurting,” Szarowicz said. “When I get home, I will be drinking. I got Irish booze.”
(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York, Ross Kerber in Boston, Brendan O’Brien and PJ Huffstutter in Chicago and Brad Heath in Alexandria, Virginia; Writing by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney)