On March 20, 2020, Emergency Executive Order 102 was signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, consequentially shutting down all non-essential business in New York City. More than 500 days later, the COVID-19 pandemic is still an ongoing issue.
On December 14, 2020, the first doses of the vaccine were administered to 79 individuals. By September of 2021, 82 percent of all adult New York City residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
But now it seems as if New York is transitioning to a new type of normal. With city restrictions relaxing and rates of vaccination rising, the city has undergone a rebirth. Street performers are back out, museums are open, indoor dining is permitted, and Wicked is showing again on Broadway. It seems as if New York is finally returning to being the city that never sleeps.
The pandemic has shown the resilience of New Yorkers. They did not let COVID-19 prevent them from doing what they love; instead, they innovated ways to do what they love safely. Local restaurants became take-out only with reduced staff, artists created socially distanced content, and people learned how to work from home.
Tamara Chapman is a photographer currently based out of Queens, New York. They started freelancing in June 2020, a time when there was no end in sight for the pandemic. Since then, Chapman has completed more than 50 shoots as a freelance photographer.
“The pandemic has allowed me to explore my photography practice further because at the time I had been in school full time and working part time,” Chapman said. “Shortly after losing my job due to COVID-19, I was able to dedicate my free time to image-making. In the beginning of the pandemic, I spent a lot of time photographing the same subjects—people who I had lived with, people in my bubble, etc. Experiencing quarantine gave me time to think about what path I really wanted to go down next.”
Chapman also noticed a shift within the art community when they started freelancing. This was not only sparked by the pandemic, but also the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“At least for the photo community specifically, many opportunities started surfacing for photographers, especially Black photographers during the Black Lives Matter movement,” Chapman said. “Clients had started hiring more Black individuals to make a statement. During this time, I had just started freelancing so I took this time to observe the people around me, continue to build my portfolio, and connect with people who were able to give me assignments/other opportunities.”
Now with the widespread rates of vaccination in the city, Chapman has been able to travel and re-enter the studio space for shoots. They recently visited Los Angeles, California, to complete a couple of shoots in a different environment.
Chapman touched on one particular shoot that stood out. “This was our first-time meeting in person but there was something so soothing about their energy that just allowed me to feel at home. We shot in Silver Lake, and it was the perfect day. The change of scenery and pace on the West Coast was very inspiring for me. It was nice to explore new spaces,” they said.
Kyo Pang is the owner and executive chef of Kopitiam in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. She is a third-generation restaurateur who was born and raised in Malaysia. In September 2015, she opened up Kopitiam to “bring a piece of the Malaysian coffee culture to New York City.” In Malaysia and other countries throughout Southeast Asia, a kopitiam is a traditional coffee shop.
During the initial shutdown, it was important to Pang that she help her employees out in any way she could. After two weeks of being fully closed, Kopitiam reopened for takeout with only a limited number of staff in the building.
“It was very difficult to remain open during the pandemic,” Pang said. “At times we would only fill 10 takeout orders in a day,”
In an effort to keep their doors open without losing money, Pang partnered with her wife’s restaurant, Public Village. The pair created a shift model that allowed their employees to float between the two restaurants. This meant that employees between the two restaurants could potentially pick up more shifts, while also maintain a safe capacity at each restaurant.
Kopitiam now continues to thrive as a business with the return of in-person dining. Pang originally created this restaurant concept to bring the familial atmosphere of the kopitiams that her family frequented when she was a child in Malaysia. She noted that she is happy to see people becoming regulars again. The warm, inviting, familial atmosphere is once again part of the core experience of dining at Kopitiam.
Rebecca Doudak is a native New Yorker who runs the YouTube channel and Instagram page Vegan Bodega Cat. She started her social media accounts as a creative way to interact with people who were also interested in vegan food.
“At first I just started uploading videos randomly but then it started to be more and more consistent,” she says in one of her YouTube videos.
During the pandemic, she did not want to stop producing content, but with in-person dining closed she had to get creative when figuring out how to make engaging posts. She did so by ordering a lot of takeout and shooting it either on the street or in her car. Since the service industry was hit very hard by the pandemic, her platform allowed her local followers to support local businesses by ordering takeout.
She also described the pandemic as making the food community much less social. “I’ve always created most of my content solo, but it’s been even more isolating,” Doudak said.
With the introduction and widespread availability of the vaccine in New York City, she has started to see restaurants returning to a new version of normalcy.
The city has newfound energy to it. People are gathering in public parks, the subways are crowded, and the sidewalks are filled with tourists and locals alike. During the height of the pandemic, the city had an eerie silence and emptiness to it. Now with high vaccination rates and widespread access to the vaccine, life in the city is beginning to seem normal once again.