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High-end retailers, posh eateries rebounding after COVID setback

Manhattan’s fanciest retailers and restaurants are back — just in time for a really rough winter.

There’s been a surge in recent weeks of high-end fashion boutiques and restaurant reopenings in central Manhattan, despite record unemployment, rising crime, municipal revenue shortfalls, schools chaos — and a COVID-19 infection uptick that’s fueled fears of a second virus wave.

While empty shops abound around town, Bergdorf Goodman — the city’s priciest department store — recently reopened for full service after providing by-appointment-only shopping since June 24. It first welcomed the public back for a few midday hours in August before expanding its hours to 6 p.m. a few weeks ago and to 7 p.m. starting next week.

The luxury emporium even set up its seventh-floor restaurant, BG, outdoors, with the cafe’s signature gold “pod” chairs startlingly standing on the Fifth Avenue sidewalk. Bergdorf’s rebirth is notable given that parent Neiman Marcus emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy only a few days ago and recently closed its Hudson Yards store.

Per Se, the town’s most expensive restaurant with a $335-per-person tasting menu reopens for dinner on Oct. 15 — despite being limited to 25 percent capacity rules. Other marquee-name eateries such as Le Bernardin, Jean-Georges, Restaurant Daniel and Marea also launched indoors.

Other signs of the world of luxury coming back to life include the reopening last week of LVMH-owned boutiques such as Louis Vuitton on Fifth Avenue and the return of restaurant L’Avenue inside Saks Fifth Avenue.

The reopenings might seem bizarre in light of the obvious crisis. But experts say there is a rhythm to the madness.

“I’m not surprised at all,” said Steven Rubenstein, president of the Association for a Better New York. “There are more people in the city. It’s busier and more animated. People don’t want to be trapped on Zoom all day, a poor facsimile of life. They’re going back into the stores.”

Eric Ripert, chef-owner of Le Bernardin, noted: “Not all parts of the New York economy are equally affected by COVID. Wall Street, for example, is doing very well,” even if many staff are still working from home.

For sure, many high-earners left town for second homes in the Hamptons and elsewhere. But residential real-estate guru Jonathan Miller notes that wealthy people will come back and forth. “Greater affluence is by definition highly mobile,” he said.

Kathryn Wylde, CEO of the influential nonprofit Partnership for New York City, says luxury providers are also turning the lights on to keep their talent pools from fleeing.

Plus, certain big-bucks businesses can only be done in person, Wylde noted. When it comes to Sotheby’s plans to auction off a Botticelli painting for upward of $80 million in January, for example, “customers want to ‘kick the tires’ ” in person, she said. “This isn’t Amazon.”

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