Wall Street executives are pushing vaccinated workers to return to work, and that's good news for vendors and other small businesses in New York that depend on workers from finance.



Banks and financial firms drive New York's economy. And for more than a year, their offices in the city's skyscrapers have been mostly vacant. Now, as NPR's David Gura reports, they face a reckoning; so do the shops and restaurants that depend on these bankers for business.

DAVID GURA, BYLINE: Wall Street is not for the faint of heart. The high stress, the long hours are a point of pride. At a recent conference, the CEO of Morgan Stanley didn't beat around the bush. James Gorman said there's a deadline.


JAMES GORMAN: Labor Day, I'll be very disappointed if people haven't found their way into the office, and then we'll have a different kind of conversation.

GURA: The pay, the perks, they make this job palatable. When you work late, you can put dinner on a company card. You can take a black car home. Bankers normally spend a lot of time in the office and that's where they learn the ropes.

JAMES DAVIES: There is real benefit to people being in the same place.

GURA: James Davies oversees a massive trading floor at Deutsche Bank that used to be packed with people. When he came back to the office in July, the place was unrecognizable.

DAVIES: You know, having worked in the industry for 25 years, it was somewhat strange to walk onto the trading floor on a kind of Wednesday morning and see, you know, I guess six to 10 people here versus the hundreds we would normally have.

GURA: But they are coming back. Davies estimates it's at 40% capacity now. That's one barometer of life getting back to normal. Another one he keeps an eye on is how business at his favorite coffee shop has changed since he's been back at work.

DAVIES: I would walk in and I would be the only person there that would pass through there in half an hour. I just went down to grab a coffee now, and the place is absolutely full.

GURA: They are green shoots in midtown. The traffic is back on the sidewalks and the streets, but for every coffee shop that's open, another one is closed. The same thing is true of delis and bakeries. The trillion-dollar question is, will it all come back? In this part of Manhattan, pedestrian traffic is down 70% from what it was pre-pandemic.

DAVID SHEHADA: What's up, brother?

GURA: David Shehada (ph) is back in his food cart selling falafel on the corner of 53rd and Park. That's a block or two from some of the largest financial firms in the world, like BlackRock.

SHEHADA: Hey, how are you doing?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Can I have a falafel pita (ph)?



SHEHADA: Hot sauce tahini.


SHEHADA: No problem.

GURA: He says business is still 50% of what it was before the pandemic, and tourists won't make up the difference.

SHEHADA: I'm just working only for the offices here. So if it's nobody here, like, the business is dead.

GURA: Halfway through the pandemic, Shehada closed the cart. He spent five months as a GrubHub deliveryman. Financial firms want workers back, but vendors and small businesses need them to come back. And what's at risk is a lot of what makes New York New York - busy bankers ducking out for great falafel from a food cart or a good bottle from Schumer's Wine & Liquors, a shop Larry Duke has owned since 1978.

Did you think about closing or you stayed open the whole time?

LARRY DUKE: I never thought about closing.


GURA: Duke and his German shepherd, Klaus (ph), stuck it out, and when his business fell nearly 80%, he laid off staff. He made a deal with his landlord. Duke took out loans. Business still has not bounced back completely.

DUKE: It's a rollercoaster. And there's no defining reason why you have a good day or why you have a bad day.

GURA: Of course, it helps banks are bringing workers back, but at some firms, it's just three days a week. For Duke and for the other businesses along Park Avenue that have made it through, three days is better than none. David Gura, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.