The Union Square Farmers Market on Wednesday. Photo: Lev Radin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The city’s air quality has hit historically bad levels, causing New Yorkers to flood social media with photos of the orange sky while officials advise people to limit their time outdoors and dig out those old COVID masks. As a result, some restaurateurs around the city have made the decision to shut down until things clear up.

“It seemed not great for our employees,” says Stephanie Watanabe of Greenpoint’s Coast and Valley. “But it’s not the day to be sitting outside and drinking wine and stuff.” As of this morning, Watanabe and co-owner Eric Hsu were still debating whether to stay closed this evening. Ultimately, the decision comes down to the safety of the staff, many of whom commute from far away in Queens and the Bronx. (The air quality on subway platforms is even worse than on the streets, according to Gothamist.) “Looking at the particulate range and all of that stuff. Does the team want to come back? Most of them don’t, actually,” Watanabe says. “We probably won’t open today. If we do, it might just be Eric.”

Other people similarly say that the main concern is the safety of staff while they travel. “Everyone I work with commutes to and from work and, with something like this, it doesn’t matter how you get there, you’re going to expose yourself to toxic air for prolonged time,” says Austin Huchinson, a server at Pinch Chinese. “And for what? Serving food to affluent people in Manhattan.”

Yesterday, Court Street Grocers closed its locations earlier than usual, as did Park Slope’s BKYLN Larder and Bed-Stuy’s Playground Coffee. (Both BKLYN Larder and Playground Coffee are closed today as well.) “We sent home whoever felt uncomfortable being there and closed early,” Yellow Rose co-owner Dave Rizo says. “We decided not to open today after realizing it was going to be another day of this.”

Others have as well. All GrowNYC markets, including Union Square, are closed for the day. In Crown Heights, Agi’s Counters remains open, but won’t be seating anyone outdoors. At Margot in Fort Greene, the owners shared on Instagram that they would “happily rebook” anyone who cancelled their reservation. “The majority of guests booked indoors last night were comfortable and had a great evening,” co-owner Kipleen Green says. “But we also completely understood the perspective of some of our diners who opted to stay home last night.”

And many restaurants will remain open, including Uncle Lou in Chinatown. “Chinese people don’t take days off,” co-owner Eddie Chan joked when asked I asked him if his restaurant would close. “My uncle and his crew are hard workers.”

Anecdotal observations do suggest that business is down. Restaurant owners from around the city shared that their numbers yesterday were below expectations, including at S&P in the Flatiron, Win Son in Williamsburg, and Di an Di and Coast & Valley in Greenpoint. “Yesterday was pretty intense and definitely slower than normal,” says Fauzia Aminah Rasheed, who decided to close Fauzia’s Heavenly Delights today. “We saw on the news and online that the air quality would be similar to yesterday — but it doesn’t seem as bad so far.”