TIMES SQUARE, Manhattan (WABC) -- The Broadway Association is looking forward to the full reopening of Midtown West, and Tuesday marks the non-profit group's first benefit since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
It's being held at Carolines on Broadway to honor owner Caroline Hirsch and celebrate the 40th anniversary of her club.
Hirsch chose Memorial Day weekend as the moment to reopen, because she said it was time to get back to business. Her club was filled to 50% capacity to start, and it's now almost full five nights a week.
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This is the latest chapter in a story of perseverance that began when she was a child in Brooklyn.
Caroline Hirsch been called a "mother hen" to a generation of comics who came of age in the club that bears her name.
The laughs didn't stop over the course of four decades, until the pandemic closed the club for more than a year.
"The last 15 months was the biggest challenge we've ever had," Hirsch said. "It was about not knowing if I'd have a business on the other side of COVID, and we didn't know exactly when that would end."
The closure came at the height of the club's influence.
"You play Carolines, you've made it," comedian Jo Koy said. "You know what I mean? When you finally get the nod from her that you get to be on that stage, it's like, 'Oh my God, yeah. I'm finally here.'"
Hirsch co-founded the New York Comedy Festival, and the weeklong event had grown to include more than 100 shows throughout all five boroughs.
A key component, "Stand Up for Heroes," had to go virtual last year, but the full lineup returns in the fall.
"People want to be with other people, and they want to laugh together," Hirsch said.
Memorial Day marked the rebirth of the club, with headliner Donnell Rawlings.
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"People had the most wonderful time, enjoyed themselves, having dinner, cocktails," Hirsch said. "I mean, it really was a special, special weekend."
Still, it's not quite back to business as usual, and the opening of nearby theaters remains months away. But nevertheless, the audience has come back -- and the sound of laugher is a symbol of Broadway's resiliance.
Carolines has been cleared to operate at full capacity, and Hirsch has been busy hiring staff to accommodate the pent up demand.
The club is open five days a week, and Hirsch hopes to return to a full seven-day schedule very soon.
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