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Attempt to Turn Times Square Plaza into Private Cafe Shot Down

By Jill Colvin | September 29, 2011 3:45pm | Updated on September 29, 2011 6:54pm
While tables outside the roped-off area were full, Salume's seating sat empty Thursday morning.
While tables outside the roped-off area were full, Salume's seating sat empty Thursday morning.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

MIDTOWN — An attempt by Times Square’s first food service kiosk to turn a section of the pedestrian plaza into what seemed to many like private café has been overruled.

Salume, the first of four food kiosks to open in Times Square, began cordoning off a section of the plaza in front of the eatery, near 46th Street and Broadway, late last week, creating its own private dining space, complete with small menus placed atop neatly lined tables.

The move came days before the city announced a multi-million-dollar overhaul plan for Times Square, designed to make the area less cluttered and easier to navigate.

Manager Harold Deloatch said the change was intended to create a more controlled space and help the eatery’s customers, who’d been having trouble finding places to sit after ordering their gourmet panini meals. He assured that despite the barriers, the area remained a public space, fully open to non-customers — a condition of the original request.

“Anyone can sit here,” he assured.

But visitors to the square interpreted the barriers differently, avoiding the seating in front of the eatery throughout the morning Thursday, assuming it was reserved for paying customers.

“We actively sat here because we didn’t think we could sit there,” said David Seneshen, 44, a pilot visiting from Egypt, pointing to the cordoned-off space from a seat nearby.

“The menus on the tables give it a definite ownership… It looks exclusive,” he said, adding that while he loved the idea of having quality food available in the square, he thought the seating should be open to everyone.

Fancisco Palau, 32, visiting from Paraguay, said he waited ten minutes to get a seat at one of the crowded tables outside the barrier while his wife was shopping at Forever 21 — even though every one of the cordoned-off seats was free.

“It’s fenced, so sitting there for me means buying water or something,” he said, agreeing that the plaza should be made as open as possible for people to sit and enjoy.

Tim Tompkins, the president of the Times Square Alliance, which manages the space and has been experimenting with Salume on the design, said he decided Thursday morning that the layout just wasn't working.

After being contacted by DNAinfo about the perception that the cordoned-off area was closed to the public, Tompkins asked staff to remove the stanchions late Thursday morning. Soon after, the tables in front of the eatery were nearly full as Salume began its lunch-time rush.

“The principle has to be that anyone can sit there," Tompkins said.

The decision to remove the barriers was supported by many, including Khalid Rivera, 27, a Broadway show ticket-seller in Times Square who lives in Queens and had also interpreted them as a sign that the seating reserved for the eatery.

He said he objected to the idea of any private business taking over a public space, especially in such a crowded square.

“I don’t think it’s cool. I just feel like a public space should be a public space,” he said. “This is already saturated. We need more room.”

Tompkins said that in addition to working with Salume to figure out a better seating arrangement, the Alliance has already ordered extra chairs to add to the space to help the eatery thrive.