This Times Square vendor sells “I <3 NY” merch because he truly loves New York.
Duane Jackson, 68, has manned a souvenir apparel stand at West 45th Street and Broadway for 23 years. In summer’s high travel season, the Cortlandt Manor resident typically sells $ 5 shirts and $ 5 hats to a crush of domestic and international tourists four days a week. But at the end of March, as New York City entered its lockdown, the Vietnam War veteran had to shut down his business due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“That’s my bread and butter,” he told The Post of his lost earnings. A recent trip to his typical Times Square haunt left him breathless. It was “totally desolate,” he said, with a clear view up the blocks between West 43rd to 48th streets.
Still, two weeks ago, he officially returned to work.
“I’m back there mainly on the weekends, where it seems to be some local people coming in … as some of us have done to break the monotony of staying home,” he said. Mostly, he’s there “to go back and try and find some normalcy,” because it hasn’t exactly been profitable. He said that the stall, which normally bustles with business from Broadway theatergoers and guests at the nearby Marriott Marquis hotel, is currently down about 97% in sales. The $ 6,000 he received, in part from federal Paycheck Protection Program loans, has helped him make it through.
His daughter has been talking up her dad, too.
Last week on Twitter, Brooklyn-based author Tiffany D. Jackson, shared the story of her pop’s shop with her 24,000 followers. The heartwarming thread — her response to a Twitter meme declaring Times Square the worst place in New York City — went viral, earning almost 50,000 likes. Jackson, 38, described her vendor father as a bomb-thwarting hero who alerted authorities when, in 2010, a suspicious Nissan Pathfinder filled up with smoke.
She also shared how the Naked Cowboy sent her a card for her high school graduation, and a guy who ran a hot dog stand gave her tips for an upcoming trip to India.
“All this to say: [Times] Square is def a tourist hell trap, but it’s also a microcosm of the very hustlers that make New York NEW YORK!” Jackson tweeted. “A lot of them have lost their livelihood but some are still out there … selling whatever they got and keeping this city … unique.
“I think it will drive people to be more mindful of Times Square as a whole,” Jackson told The Post. And she’s hoping it helps out her dad. “If you didn’t before, you will definitely go now and visit him,” she said of her father, who’s also an author.
But the elder Jackson admits things still feel very uncertain, despite what he calls “the tenacity of New Yorkers in general, and the good guidance that we’ve gotten from the governor.”
He’s planning to return to the stand this weekend.
“If you don’t set up, you don’t make any money,” he said, citing an old vendor mantra. While he has no idea when business will pick up, he knows one thing for sure: He’s coming back from this and so will every New Yorker in his shoes.
“You tighten your belt and you watch your resources and hope that we can get out of this soon,” he said.