The Saratoga Chamber of Commerce is advocating that Broadway be closed on Travers Day and Whitney Day to allow for a street festival. In their new house organ, Saratoga Report, they boast of pressuring the City Council to close Henry Street, a small street two blocks away so the bars and restaurants there could have expanded outdoor seating.
I think there are good reasons why closing Broadway for weekend days in warm weather so there could be outdoor dining makes a lot of sense. What does not make sense, however, is promoting a “festival” where crowds will throng downtown for “dining,” and bars with takeout service, on track days that typically attract large crowds.
If you think the crowds will not come because the track is closed to spectators, consider the “Chowder Fest.” This annual event, on the first Saturday in February, features long lines outside restaurants and bars to get a two-ounce cup of their chowder made especially for this occasion. I am not making this up; it’s actually one of my favorite days. But temperatures can be below zero and/or it can be snowing. Still the crowds come. The last time I went, the crowds on the sidewalks of Broadway were so packed it was nearly impossible to walk down them.
So, bump the thermometer by 80 degrees, make it a sunny day, and add the hype that always accompanies these race days. Do you think Broadway will be jammed, despite the Chamber’s suggestion that “crowds are limited to ensure safe distancing?” Right.
Crowds will not be limited, but rather attracted by the prospect of a big outdoor party. The experience in the numerous hot spots around the country is that it is the fun events that attract the big crowds that inevitably have a lot of irresponsible conduct. Will Chamber members be taking temperatures at the many access points to Broadway and then monitoring compliance with social distancing and mask wearing? No, I did not think so.
Tracks that have “re-opened” have quickly experienced their own issues. Lone Star Park in Texas celebrated their resumption with a photograph of spectators standing shoulder-to-shoulder at the rail. They have now closed again because of an “abundance of caution.” While I have not seen a specific reason from the track, we can assume that positives showed up among either track workers or racing folks.
Monmouth Park on the Jersey shore obtained permission from the state government to admit spectators. The track thought that meant 15,000 people. The state responded with a “not so fast,” so the actual number was south of 3,000. While masks were required for spectators, Bill Finley reports in Thoroughbred Daily News that he saw few masks by the end of the day, and there was no apparent effort to enforce the requirement. For the Haskell, the track’s big day, there will only be 500 general admissions sold.
Saratoga Springs has been fortunate in not having a major problem with fatalities and Covid-19 positives. This is in large part attributable to the leadership of Governor Andrew Cuomo and his constant calls for responsible behavior. There is no national leadership apart from Dr. Fauci (whose name sake horse just won at Keeneland). Inexplicably, common sense safety measures have become a politicized matter.
But it is foolhardy to think that Saratoga Springs is immune from the terrifying spike in cases (and deaths) from around the country. This is not the time to relax our guard, particularly with events likely to attract people from around the country. The Chamber of Commerce should promote long-tern economic recovery and not leap at the first shiny object that presents itself.