Why Reopening Ceremonies in NYC Are So Important Right Now

When Coney Island reopened this month after more than a year of sickness, death and unemployment, officials wanted to make müddet the ceremony hit the right tone: one of joy, but also of respect and gratitude.

“We know that this wouldn’t be possible without the frontline heroes that helped save countless lives and continue to help our community heal through the pandemic,” said Alessandro Zamperla, the president and chief executive of Central Amusement International, which owns Luna Park.

To that end, the first passengers to ride the Cyclone, the 90-year-plus wooden roller coaster there, would be 100 essential workers from nearby Coney Island Hospital, selected from a raffle.

One of the lucky riders was Dawn Lanzisera, who works in the psychiatric emergency room. “I grew up near here,” she said of the Brooklyn neighborhood. No stranger to the Cyclone, she’s ridden it over 100 times, she said. “It’s so great to be here and see life return.”

Steven Kushnir, a supervisor in the patients’ account department, was not feeling so confident before the experience. “I am definitely going to scream,” he said. “I am happy I saw someone go on a test ride before,” he continued. “This ride is almost 100 years old. You don’t want to be the first.”

But for official purposes, on this day he and his co-workers were the first. As soon as the speeches had concluded and the gates had opened, the rickety roller coaster cars, filled with hospital employees, started their climb to the top, one that offered stunning views of the ocean and boardwalk. As the coaster plunged 85 feet, the screams may have reflected the release of a pandemic year’s worth of tensions.

Mayor Bill de Blasio rode the Cyclone with workers from Coney Island Hospital.Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul was among the speakers at Coney Island’s reopening.Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times

And just like that, after 529 days, Coney Island Amusement Park was open again.

This has been a spring of reopenings around New York City, with bars, restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, even amusement parks coming back to life after the shutdown. Rather than just turn on the lights and open the doors, many owners have sought to celebrate with meaningful gestures. Some places, like Luna Park, are honoring frontline workers. Others are sanctifying their spaces with good luck ceremonies.

“We couldn’t with a straight face pretend this was another day at the office,” said John Vanco, the general manager of the IFC Center, an independent movie theater in Greenwich Village.

In early March, the theater reopened with a series it called “What’d We Miss?” — films that came out during the pandemic but did not get the chance to appear on big screens. Mr. Vanco and his staff, acutely aware that sitting indoors with strangers was not going to come naturally yet for many New Yorkers, wanted to mark the fraught occasion with something special. So Mr. Vanco reached out to the selected films’ directors and asked them to make short movies introducing their work and welcoming back moviegoers.

“I know you might have some big TV screens at home, but not like this screen,” said Spike Lee in his short, which introduced “Da 5 Bloods.”

Miranda July, introducing “Kajillionaire,” her latest feature, told viewers, “I so wish I was there with you and not at home in my bathroom.”

Mr. Vanco was amazed by how easy it was to persuade directors to do this, especially as he only had 10 days to put the series together. “They all agreed enthusiastically,” he said. “In the old days I would have never reached out to Miranda July.”

Before the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Columbus Circle reopened this month, Susanne Hatje, its general manager, consulted with the brand’s feng shui master in Hong Kong. Together they deemed it auspicious to open the hotel’s doors at 12:08 p.m. “He said that eight is a lucky number in the Chinese culture because it sounds like the word that means wealth and prosperity,” Ms. Hatje said.

Lion dancers with Susanne Hatje, the general manager of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York, marking its reopening at 12:08 p.m. on April 1.Credit…David Heckler

On April 1, the morning of the reopening, 100 staff members — from housekeepers to executives — had their temperatures checked and then gathered in the ballroom on the 36th floor, with unobstructed views of Central Park and Midtown, for a traditional lion dance. Costumed performers danced to bring good fortune, wealth and prosperity back to the hotel, and to New York in general.

Employees feasted on salmon, Asian-inspired salads and giant fortune cookies with handwritten messages in them before Ms. Hatje and the lion dancers went down to the hotel’s entrance for a champagne toast to mark the 12:08 opening. “We had four guests who were waiting there, eager to check in for their stay,” she said.

This month the Well, a wellness retreat near Union Square, gathered its staff for a multifaceted intention ceremony right before it reopened. For 45 minutes, staff members participated in a water purification ritual and practiced sun salutations. There was a Sikh prayer to bless the space, a meditation to welcome spring after a harsh winter and the sounding of a gong.

“We need to really heal ourselves,” said Rebecca Parekh, co-founder and chief executive, “so we can open the doors and heal our community.”

At The Well, a wellness center, staff members gathered for an intention ceremony right before it reopened.Credit…Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

Like the officials at Luna Park, Yen Ngo, the owner of the Vietnamese restaurant Van Da, wanted to honor frontline workers when it came time to reopen officially.

On April 2, the restaurant hosted 75 frontline workers and other people who cared for the community during the pandemic — all women — over two seatings for a prix fixe dinner with wine pairings.

Ms. Ngo had asked the restaurant’s followers on Instagram to nominate women who made a difference during the pandemic, either by working in hospitals or performing important advocacy or charity work. Two hundred people were nominated.

The women were feted with Van Da specialties like crispy mochi dumplings and turmeric branzino.

“These people kept telling me how happy they were to be there and be recognized, and that they felt really special,” Ms. Ngo said.

“We felt so much positivity,” she added. “This is one way to get back to normalcy.”

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