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New York City may still largely be in shutdown mode, but the Fourth of July Coney Island gorgefest known as the Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest will take place as scheduled—with pandemic-related modifications.
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Officials with Nathan’s Famous and Major League Eating, the company that organizes the annual competition, said Monday that they are holding the event at a private location in Coney Island, with no audience on hand. They also said they would ensure that proper social distancing is maintained among the contestants and officials.
“We are following all safety rules,” said George Shea, Major League Eating chairman and host of the competition for more than two decades.
The plan means that the tens of thousands of spectators who traditionally show up for the event won’t be able to cheer in person for their favorite competitive eaters, such as 12-time champion Joey Chestnut. But the Brooklyn contest, normally held at Nathan’s original Coney Island location at Surf and Stillwell avenues, will be televised on the ESPN sports cable network, as it has since 2004.
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Nathan’s Famous, based in Jericho, N.Y., also won’t be reaping the financial reward of having all those spectators on hand. The company said the Fourth of July is typically the busiest day at its Coney Island locations, including on the boardwalk, and that it sells as many as 15,000 hot dogs during the holiday.
Nathan’s Famous Senior Vice President James Walker said the company sees this year’s event as not only good branding but also a positive message that New Yorkers and others need.
“It’s a great way to telegraph to the world that things are going to get better,” he said.
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Messrs. Walker and Shea also noted that the event would have a charitable component, with Nathan’s Famous donating 100,000 hot dogs to the Food Bank for New York City. In addition, Major League Eating and individual competitors will make donations to food banks, Mr. Shea said.
The contest may be one of the few Fourth of July traditions, at least locally, to remain in place. While New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said earlier this spring that the annual Macy’s fireworks show would still happen in some form, he hasn’t given any specifics since that time. A Macy’s official said Monday that the company would provide an update later this month.
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Mr. Shea said that his organization reached out to city officials to make sure they had no objections to this year’s event being held, with the modifications in mind. A city official confirmed that the city had no issues with the contest and welcomed seeing it continue.
A spokesman for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said “an event like this can only go forward if the appropriate nonessential-gathering and sanitation guidance can be followed.”
Another change to this year’s competition: The pool of competitors—typically, up to 20 in the men’s division and up to 15 in the women’s—will be significantly reduced to allow for proper social distancing. Mr. Shea said he anticipated 11 contestants in total, or about a third of the typical roster.
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Mr. Chestnut, who set the world record of devouring 74 hot dogs in 10 minutes at the 2018 contest, is scheduled to be on hand again this year, Mr. Shea said. So is Miki Sudo, who has won the women’s division six times.
Messrs. Shea and Walker speculate that this year’s format may work to the contestants’ advantage since they will be competing in an indoor, air-conditioned environment and not battling the summer heat, as has normally been the case. But Ms. Sudo said she would be missing the public cheering her on.
“Every year I’ve fed off the crowd,” she said.
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