NEW YORK — Museums, the Empire State Building, Broadway theaters and many stores reopened Wednesday to the relief of tourists who'd been stuck in hotel rooms since the weekend due to superstorm Sandy. But parks, the 9/11 Memorial, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and other top attractions remained shuttered, some indefinitely as damage assessment continued.
"We tried to go to Central Park but it was closed," said Angela Walsh, here from Lincoln, England, with her husband and two kids, as they took pictures at Rockefeller Center Wednesday morning, where the rink was opening for skating. She said they'd spent much of the last two days in their hotel room. "Thank God for Facebook," she added. "That kept them entertained."
All city parks and the High Line are closed indefinitely. In Central Park at least 250 mature trees were felled by the storm, with benches and playgrounds damaged as well. "It's all about keeping the public safe," said Doug Blonsky, president and CEO of the Central Park Conservancy.
Most Broadway matinee and evening performances were expected to play as scheduled Wednesday. Cancelations included "Evita," "The Lion King," "Mary Poppins" and "Scandalous."
Thomas Karlegott waited with his wife and another couple from Angelholm, Sweden, all on their first visit to New York, for the opening of the TKTS booth in Times Square Wednesday. He said they'd be happy with tickets to any show at all after wandering around a largely shuttered Manhattan for the last few days without doing much.
"We ate good food," he added with a smile, but admitted that they'd missed shopping and going to museums.
Subways remained closed, making it difficult to get around. The Staten Island Ferry, a humble commuter boat that's popular with tourists because it offers a free, beautiful view of New York Harbor, was shut due to flooding in the ferry terminal. Yellow cabs were on the streets but hard to come by.
Local buses were running, but double-decker tour buses – normally a ubiquitous sight around the city – remained out of service Wednesday, though City Sights, Gray Line and other bus companies announced on their websites that they hoped to resume operations Thursday. Circle Line boat tours said via Twitter that they also hoped to resume Thursday.
The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island were expected to remain closed at least until Saturday, according to their websites.
Tourism is the city's fifth largest industry, with an annual economic impact worth $52 billion, including $34.5 billion in direct spending. Nearly 51 million people visited New York City in 2011. Mayor Michael Bloomberg noted the importance of tourism to the city as he defended the decision to hold the New York Marathon Sunday as scheduled: "We have to have an economy. There's lots of people that have to come here."
Among those lining up at the Museum of Modern Art was Sophie Manisse from Lyon, France. "We wanted to see the Halloween parade," she said, referring to the annual Greenwich Village event, which was canceled. Instead, she headed into MOMA, where Edvard Munch's "The Scream" went on display a week ago and seemed to symbolize the state of mind of many visitors.
"We're really upset," said Debbie Clinton, visiting the city from Liverpool, England, as they walked into the Empire State Building, one of the first of the city's major attractions to reopen Wednesday morning. "We bought passes for all these attractions and we haven't used them." They were heading home Thursday.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art also opened Wednesday, and the Guggenheim opened for one exhibition, "Picasso Black and White." The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx planned to reopen Thursday, and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden planned to reopen Friday.
Crowds of would-be shoppers gathered outside Macy's and other stores Wednesday in anticipation of the doors opening.
"It's filled with tourists!" reported Macy's spokeswoman Elina Kazan a few minutes after the store opened. She said they had limited staffing but saluted the workers who made it to 34th Street from the city's far-flung neighborhoods "by any means possible. They walked, carpooled, bused or cabbed from the boroughs. Many waited for hours but made it in."
Some visitors had a philosophical attitude. Martine Juillard of Paris, waiting with her two teenage daughters for an Abercrombie & Fitch store to open on Fifth Avenue Wednesday, said there had been some frightening moments during the worst of the storm.
"We are pleased because we are alive," she said with a bold smile. "For the shops and the museums, we'll come back another time."