A New York City tour business has been growing despite the pandemic shutdown by adding new viable services.
Cindy VandenBosch and Andrew Gustafson are the husband and wife duo at the helm of Turnstile Tours. Both of them have decades of experience in history, museums and tourism. Over the past 10 years, they’ve built a diverse portfolio of programs with unique New York stories at historic sites such as the South Street Seaport, the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the Brooklyn Botanical Garden.
When the Covid-19 pandemic threatened to shut down their Brooklyn tour-guide business—Turnstile Tours—husband-and-wife team Cindy VandenBosch and Andrew Gustafson reinvented their nine-year-old company on the fly.
Founded in 2012, Turnstile Tours’ unofficial motto is “We share stories of how New York City works.” By taking customers behind the scenes of different aspects of city life, especially in Brooklyn, the company aims to highlight the work of ordinary New Yorkers.
Turnstile Tours, a Brooklyn-based company, normally offers custom-made walking tours of locations like the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the Essex Market, in partnership with local businesses and organizations. Today, the same ethos of community and access which animates Turnstile’s walking tours is available through its Virtual Programs.
Offered via Zoom webinar, the Virtual Programs are described as “online experiences…talking with makers, street vendors, and museum staff, showing artifacts and materials from our archives, and sharing stories and research that don’t always make it into our tours.” In one memorable program from early in the pandemic, tour guide Brian Hoffman spoke remotely with a woman buying a pint of lychee at the Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory.
A selection of Turnstile’s Virtual Programs is available for free at the company’s website; new programs, generally, three or four per week, are e-ticketed events. And the company has now resumed in-person walking tours of Prospect Park, under precautions like limited group size and mandatory masks.
Since the WHO has categorized COVID-19 as a pandemic, the global economy has suffered, and millions of people are filing for unemployment. There are several webinars that are designed to help brands and companies stay relevant, but several lack the fundamental issue for most small business owners (i.e. restaurants, cafes, etc.), which is, how do I get money into my business now.
While you can still appreciate the beauty of the park for brief respites of fresh air with appropriate social distancing, the Prospect Park Alliance is encouraging visitors to head online to explore the green space with a new resource.
Virtual Prospect Park includes resources from educators, historians, gardeners and others to allow a look into Brooklyn’s backyard while following the directive to stay indoors as much as possible during the crisis.
On a public tour, you can learn how the facility works to transform old things into modern, and to help small businesses that will support New York in the future. Part of that is gathering start-up companies, and providing space in the Brooklyn Navy Yard for shared offices. For a long time, Brooklyn has been a major base for the food manufacturing industry, and beer and whiskey are still being produced in one corner of the site, and the long-established Russ & Daughters has also moved their factory to the Navy Yard this year, inside a renovated historic building that is now open to the public as a new attraction.
Turnstile Tours has built a reputation for offering quirky tours, from historic sites such as Brooklyn’s Army Terminal to street markets, and donates at least 5 per cent of all ticket sales to neighbourhood projects. New for this year are two-hour walking tours of Prospect Park – Central Park’s more compact sister in Brooklyn – exploring the meadows and woodlands, art and architecture and waterways. There’s also a tour of the Gowanus waffle production space for the trendy Wafels & Dinges chain. As well as meeting the chefs and learning how the business works, visitors get to make (and eat) their own waffles.
Four new walking tours will reveal Prospect Park’s rich history and uncover its hidden gems. Prospect Park Walking Tours, starting on April 28, will offer a different guided trip through the green space each Sunday, letting audiences focus on the marvels of Brooklyn’s Back Yard they find most interesting.
Each two-hour tour starts at Grand Army Plaza and takes visitors through the park’s 150-year history, from the halcyon days just after landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux opened the green in the 1860s, through the Park’s disrepair in the 1970s, and its rejuvenation in the last two decades, according to one of the guides.
Hundreds of food carts patrol New York’s streets every day offering cheap, filling feeds with this two-hour tour visiting some of the best. Sample six dishes including Korean short ribs, Mexican quesadillas and Belgian waffles. You’ll get to meet the vendors and understand the challenges of selling food curb-side in the Big Apple.