Renee Pritchard is a server at Nicoletta’s Italian Café on Main Street in the heart of Cooperstown, N.Y. Like most businesses in the village of 1,852 best known for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Café is just trying to survive.
Memorial Day Weekend is usually the start of the thriving summer season that’s kicked off by the Hall of Fame Classic, an exhibition played by former big leaguers with hall-of-famers as coaches and managers. The game is staged across the street from Nicoletta’s at historic Doubleday Field, which is in the midst of a $5.8 million renovation.
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Only there was no game on Saturday. And the Hall itself has been closed since March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It won’t open until summer at the earliest. And the ballyhooed July induction weekend that would’ve featured Derek Jeter will have to wait a year, when the New York Yankees’ legend will be enshrined with whoever is honored in the next batch of baseball’s best. The possibilities include Curt Schilling, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.
Shutdown orders issued in New York State have relegated restaurants to take out only. The numerous baseball memorabilia shops have been closed. Pritchard, meantime, just returned to work after a months-long furlough.
“I was going crazy,” she said. “It’s nice to be back to work.”
Last year, 55,000 flocked to Cooperstown for the induction of another Yankees legend, Mariano Rivera. Jeter was widely expected to draw even more fans. Right now, however, the town is empty, and so are many coffers.
“The ripple effects of this are everywhere,” said former Mayor Jeff Katz, who retired in 2018. “The only difference between us and more urban places is everything’s concentrated basically on one street, so you can’t help but notice.”
Hotels and bed and breakfasts usually require a minimum three-day stay for induction weekend. The Otesaga, which hosts Hall of Famers, baseball officials and their families, is taking reservations starting on June 12. It customarily opens April 1 and remains in service through Thanksgiving.
The Opera season, a mainstay of the summer, has been canceled. So, too, were the May-to-October youth baseball tournaments held at Dream Park. That means empty hotels rooms, and so on, right down to the local breweries. Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh, Katz’s deputy for eight years, says the town has already lost $500,000 in tax revenue. Otsego County, which includes Cooperstown, reported a 27-percent drop in sales tax revenue since mid-March. Cutbacks in Cooperstown mean services like street paving, sidewalk repair and buildings upgrades have been put on hold, the mayor said. “This whole region lives off Coopertown’s renown to bring people in,” she said. “The town is an incredible economic engine. Ultimately, you’re talking about millions and millions of dollars in lost revenue.”
As of this past weekend Otsego County had 62 cases and five deaths attributed to COVID-19. The county has laid off 59 employees, and is looking at a $14.5 million budget shortfall. Otsego County is in central New York’s Mohawk Valley, a region that already qualified for Phase 1 of the reopening and has been in place for about a week. A full reopening of restaurants like Nicoletta’s is phase 3. Reopening museums — like the red-bricked Hall of Fame on the other end of Main Street — is part of Phase 4.
One of the primary criteria of moving from stage to stage is a 14-day decline in coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths on a three-day rolling average.
“We have not had one person test positive in three weeks now,” Tillapaugh said.
Still, restaurants can’t open until mid-June at the earliest, and the Hall is likely to remain shuttered until sometime in July. The Hall, which is a non-profit founded and run by the family of Chairwoman Jane Forbes Clark, will survive.
According to a 2019 tax filing the Hall had $21.9 million in gross receipts and $52.8 million in assets. Figures provided by the Hall show that 275,000 visitors entered the museum last year, with 90-percent of that accruing during the summer months. The renovation of Doubleday Field continues, commemorating its 100th anniversary since play began there in 1920 on what was then a cow pasture. Cooperstown is synonymous with baseball, Katz said, and the Hall’s reopening will have significant meaning to the locals. “The Hall of Fame not being open, there’s a certain hollowness,” Katz said. “My hope is that whenever they reopen, whether people come or not, that’s going to feel like some sort of return to normalcy.”
Barry M. Bloom is a reporter for Sportico, Penske Media’s new sports business platform
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