NEWARK, NJ — Nearly a year after COVID-19 caused a city-wide shutdown with businesses and entertainment venues forced to close their doors, the Prudential Center reopened to the public for the first time on Tuesday to host a hockey game with fans trickling back into the downtown area to the delight of local businesses. 

Following Gov. Phil Murphy’s announcement that professional sports and entertainment venues can open to spectators starting on March 1 with a 10% capacity for indoor venues and 15% capacity for outdoor venues, The Rock played host to a game between the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders as approximately 2,000 fans flocked the arena grounds. 

Business owners around the arena were ecstatic to welcome back the crowds as fans came to grab some food and drinks before the game.

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“We get to pay some bills, we get to keep the staff employed and it’s so nice to see people,” Redd’s Biergarten Owner Doug Palsi said. “We have a long way to go, but at least we can see that maybe it will lead to a road to start getting at it.” 

The biergarten has been a popular pre-game/event visit for many fans over the years given the site’s proximity to the arena. As patrons packed the tables before Tuesday night’s game, Palsi found himself running around the kitchen to expedite food orders and had only one word to describe the atmosphere: “Unbelievable.”  

Another business that reveled in the scene was Ricardo Jimenez of Jimenez Tobacco. In addition to the business’ storefront on Liberty Street, the shop also serves as a vendor inside the Prudential Center. 

“We are very happy that things are starting to open back up,” Ricardo said. “We’re excited that the Devils are back playing and that the arena is open at whatever percentage it is. We’re happy to start to see people back in the community. We look forward to social distancing and keeping everyone safe. Whatever the percentage is - it’s something, and something is better than nothing as long as we’re safe.” 

Cornbread Newark, located on Broad Street around the corner from The Rock, was also thrilled to see the familiar sight of fans traversing through the downtown area on game day. 

“I’m excited about the opportunity that it’s bringing,” manager Tanisha Williams said. “I’m delighted for the community, the change and the upkeep.”

Not only did local businesses take pleasure in the reopening of the arena, but fans did as well looking to catch some live entertainment for the first time since the shutdown. 

“I’m just looking to have a good time tonight and enjoy a game for once. It’s been a long year,” one fan, Evan Quinn, told TAPinto Newark. “You take things for granted. When COVID hit, things that were so easy to do like go to a game or go out and have dinner - just to be able to go out, go to a game again and live your life a little - it feels normal.” 

As patrons keep optimistic for a return to the status quo, two Devils fans and friends, Alexxis Buttler and Allie Maloney, said they felt at ease to be back in the area. 

“It feels like we’re back to normal and back to life again,” Buttler said. “I feel comfortable and excited to watch the game.”

 “It’s refreshing and real nice,” Maloney said.