Monday, November 20, 2017

The Hollowed-Out City

Call it the lay of the land. The New York Times editorializes this morning about the incredibly shrinking number of retail stores in New York City. Fewer and fewer people window shop. Fewer and fewer people go out to browse the stores or even to shop in them. Thus, the city’s streetscape is being hollowed out.

Is it a sign of the times? Is it the Amazon effect? Is it about greedy landlords, as the Times suggests, or government tax policy? One suspects that all of the above are in play.

The result is grim:

…  a scourge of store closings … afflicts one section of the city after another, notably in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn. This plague has been underway for several years, but its familiarity does not diminish the damage inflicted on the economic and the psychic well-being of neighborhoods. One by one, cherished local shops are disappearing, replaced by national chains or, worse, nothing at all.

How bad is it?

“For lease” signs all but define every block in some neighborhoods, rich as well as poor. Take the Upper West Side. Its City Council member, Helen Rosenthal, reports that her staff recently surveyed shops along Broadway and Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues, and on some side streets. Of 1,332 storefronts, 161, or 12 percent, were unoccupied. The situation, Ms. Rosenthal correctly says, is a threat to the area’s character, its “sense of community” and even its residents’ sense of safety. 

Of course, it’s difficult for almost any store to compete against Amazon. The overhead of a local store so far surpasses that of online merchants that they have been falling along the wayside. No store on Madison Avenue or even on Third Avenue will be able to compete with a warehouse in Kentucky. And that is before we add the cost of labor. 

If the problem is landlord greed—raising rents to levels that no one can afford—the free market will deal with the problem.

Add to that the fact, also reported by the Times today, that New York’s subway system has the worst on-time record of any subway system in the world… and you might think that it’s time to curb your optimism about the Big Apple.


trigger warning said...

My in-laws live in upstate NY (Hoosick area). The NY tax and regulatory environment is wrecking their small business. We visited in April, and tbey are actively planning a move to a less oppressive state. NH is on their radar. I have no doubt NYC is far worse with de Blasio in charge.

But as bad as it is for small businesspeople, and I do sympathize, I must admit to a touch of amusement watching a Progressive train wreck in motion.

Sam L. said...

NYC is doing a slow-motion suicide.

sestamibi said...

NYC native here now living way upstate in the North Country. Can't wait to bail next year and regroup in Michigan.