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Strike lessens crowds at New York's Times Square

NEW YORK - The Broadway stagehands' strike may seem like an issue only for local business, but its impact could extend far beyond the Great White Way, as declining foot traffic reduces the number of visitors to the outlets of national chain stores, restaurants and hotels.

The walkout, which has closed more than two dozen Broadway theaters, started Nov. 10. Talks were scheduled to resume this weekend. The impasse has left tourists adrift and turned the normally crowded Times Square into a comparative ghost town.

During a typical year, visitors spend about $5 billion on entertainment, including Broadway shows and other activities, according to NYC & Co., the city's official marketing and tourism organization. City Comptroller William Thompson estimated the economic impact of the strike at $2 million a day, including total spending on tickets, dining, shopping and other activities.

Among those feeling the squeeze is The Walt Disney Co., whose productions of 'The Lion King' and 'The Little Mermaid' are shuttered. Together, the two shows took in nearly $900,000 at the box office the week before the strike, according to Variety, and 'Mermaid' was still in previews - it's scheduled to open Dec. 6.

Disney's pain is being somewhat assuaged by 'Mary Poppins,' which is one of only eight Broadway shows still open, due to a separate contract with the union. The limited Broadway fare has proven beneficial for the production, which Variety said pulled in approximately $1 million through Sunday, up about $220,000 from the prior week.

The strike is also taking a toll on the dinner-and-a-show experience that restaurants capitalize on. Zane Tankel, chief executive and chairman of Apple Metro Inc., the New York City franchisee of Applebee's International Inc., said its restaurant at 50th St. has been hurt quite a bit, but the blow has been partially offset by the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular, which opened Friday. Radio City is owned by Cablevision Systems Corp.'s MSG Entertainment subsidiary.

'There's not too much we can do,' Tankel said, explaining that advertising for one location would be cost prohibitive and the city discourages handing out fliers.

The restaurant is overstaffed, according to Tankel, as the company began hiring extra workers in October so they would be trained in time for the normally busy holiday season. The company doesn't want to let the employees go, as it would have to spend time retraining individuals once the strike ends and business picks up.

While its 50th St. Applebee's location is struggling, Tankel said its 42nd St. restaurant - the chains' largest in the world by volume - is faring better, due to its close proximity to some movie theaters.

Applebee's is not the only vulnerable food operator, as Papa John's International Inc. and Darden Restaurants Inc. - which owns the Red Lobster and Olive Garden restaurant chains - have Midtown exposure as well.

The strike is also having some repercussions for the travel industry, with JetBlue Airways Corp. spokeswoman Alison Eshelman acknowledging the carrier has seen 'a slight increase' in the number of canceled flights to New York.