NEW YORK - The Tenement Museum educates visitors on how immigrant families settled in New York in the 19th and 20th centuries. But the iconic Lower East Side institution has been closed for several months due to the pandemic, and just announced 76 part-time employees were laid off, 71 of whom were tour guides.
“It’s always such a great experience you learn so much about the city and its history, so it’d be really sad to see it take a hit like that," said one resident.
The museum still has 18 education staff members who are trained to give tours of its two tenement buildings on Orchard Street and the surrounding neighborhood. But a major challenge will be finding a safe way to restart indoor tours, where visitors are taken into cramped rooms where entire families used to live together.
“Those tenements are about a world where social distancing was impossible. The tenements we're about living in families with six, or eight, or 10 people where people weren’t able to have any privacy," said museum president Morris Vogel.
For now, the institution is focusing on digital programming. Vogel says he took a 99% salary reduction, and reductions for other employees are being considered.
Vogel says during challenging situations, he often reflects on the uphill battles immigrants faced and draws inspiration from their tenacity.
“Even at a time like this, when we think the world is ending, when we don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring, think of people who crossed oceans, who knew that they’d never see their families again, and didn’t really know what they were going to find," he said.
Museum officials hope to restart outdoor tours with a modest schedule in mid-August, but that’s subject to change. If you're interested in making a donation, you can visit tenement.org.