Empty on Broadway


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Vacancies on a key UWS corridor


Photos



  • Broadway on the Upper West Side had a 14 percent retail vacancy rate, a recent study found. Photo: Michael Garofalo




  • The recently closed Barneys near 76th Street is one of a number of vacant storefronts along one stretch of Broadway in the West 70s. Photo: Michael Garofalo




The Barneys New York between 75th and 76th Streets became the latest Broadway retailer to join the ranks of the recently departed when it closed its doors for the last time on Feb. 18 at the storefront it occupied for more than 10 years.

Next door to Barneys, another shop sits vacant after the Art of Shaving location that formerly occupied the site closed in recent weeks. On the east side of Broadway, opposite Barneys, spaces that once held a dry cleaner, travel agent and Duane Reade now feature signs advertising retail space for lease.

A block north, the West Side Market between 76th and 77th Streets was shuttered last fall after nearly 40 years at the location. The former grocery is one of three empty storefronts that now dot the block’s western half, with a fourth across Broadway.

Though the causes of vacancy vary from storefront to storefront, the empty shops on this stretch of Broadway in the West 70s seem to be representative of a Manhattan-wide phenomenon. A confluence of factors, including competition from online retailers and ballooning retail rents, which rose 44 percent in Manhattan from 2006 to 2016, have squeezed businesses out of storefronts, sometimes leaving them vacant for extended periods.

Nearly every resident of the neighborhood seems to lament the recent loss of at least one erstwhile stalwart shop.

“Every time I walk down the street there are stores that have closed,” Upper West Sider Elsa Honig Fine said as she shopped in Barneys the Friday before it closed. “It’s very depressing.”

The city does not comprehensively track retail vacancies, but others have collected unofficial and unscientific data on the topic. A May 2017 study of vacancies along the entire length of Broadway conducted by the office of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer identified four vacancies between the 72nd and 79th Street subway stations.

Over the summer of 2017, the staff of Council Member Helen Rosenthal canvassed the Upper West Side and found nine empty stores along the same stretch. With the closure of Barneys, there are now at least a dozen empty storefronts between the two subway stops.

The unique and often complex factors behind each individual vacancy make it difficult to draw broad conclusions or an overriding narrative explaining the phenomenon. Each storefront has its own story — certain businesses just don’t work, some depart because of rent hikes, some owners retire without successors in place, and others outgrow their space or move to new locations for different reasons. And vacancies themselves can be difficult to track, as leases are signed and storefronts filled in the city’s fluid market.

Despite the perception that vacancies have increased and persisted in the near-term, one recent report found that the total number of commercial establishments on the Upper West Side actually increased by 10 percent from 2000 to 2015. Brewer, Rosenthal and other local leaders have called on the city to conduct a systematic study of vacancy rates to provide consistent, reliable data with which to inform solutions.

There are signs of adjustment in the market. Last fall, the Real Estate Board of New York reported that the average asking rents along Broadway between 72nd and 86th Streets dropped by 15 percent over the previous year.

“Generally speaking prices have come down, and I think that’s an opportunity for tenants that want to enter or re-enter the market,” said Doug Kleiman, a retail broker with Ripco Real Estate who works with both landlords and tenants. “It’s actually an excellent time to do business on the Upper West Side, ironically.”

“The good news is that the mom-and-pops are coming back and I hope to see the number of them increase,” he added.

VACANCY RATES

Rosenthal’s study found that Broadway between 62nd and 109th Streets had a 14 percent vacancy rate — higher than the neighborhood-wide rate of 12 percent and tied with Amsterdam Avenue for the highest rate of the Upper West Side’s commercial corridors — and the largest total number of empty storefronts of any corridor in the neighborhood. The report also found that national chains accounted for 40 percent of all stores on Broadway, significantly higher than the proportion of chain stores on Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues (11 percent and 17 percent, respectively). Rosenthal’s office estimated that the percentage of chain stores on Broadway more than doubled from 2007 to 2017.

Faith Hope Consolo, a broker with Douglas Elliman Real Estate who helped negotiate the lease that landed Barneys in the Broadway space, said that she expects that vacancies will increasingly be filled as the market corrects itself. “Now that a lot of the rents have come down I think we’re going to see a lot more of the neighborhood filling in this year,” she said. “It’s kind of just a natural attrition, but it’s not going to stay there long because Broadway on the Upper West Side has some of the best foot traffic in the city, seven days a week.”

But Rosenthal and others on the City Council have advocated for measures designed to promote retail, including a law passed last year exempting some small businesses from the city’s Commercial Rent Tax. “[W]hile we found that our area has a 12 percent commercial vacancy rate, other Manhattan retail centers like Times Square, Herald Square and SoHo have vacancy rates that are far higher,” Rosenthal wrote in an emailed statement. “There are solutions that policymakers can implement to help retain small businesses and keep our commercial corridors vibrant. We won a significant break for Manhattan small businesses by securing relief from the Commercial Rent Tax, and some of the City Council’s land use strategies have shown real promise. We need to continue to explore every possible tool.”

With the closure of Barneys on Broadway, the high-end retailer has two remaining stores in Manhattan, one in Chelsea and its flagship store on Madison Avenue, which the New York Post reported in December is the subject of ongoing arbitration between Barneys and its landlord over a potential rent hike.

“Barneys New York has enjoyed serving the community on the Upper West Side for over a decade,” a company spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “We sincerely appreciate the loyalty of our customers, and we look forward to continuing to serve them at our Madison [Avenue], Downtown and Brooklyn locations.”

The former homes of Barneys and the Art of Shaving now sit in shadows beneath a sidewalk shed — a familiar feature of the neighborhood streetscape that are frequently a subject of complaint from retailers who find their storefronts covered by the uninviting structures, which can also make vacant spaces more challenging for landlords to rent.

On the west side of Broadway from 75th to 79th Street, four consecutive blocks are covered in whole or in part by sidewalk sheds. Under the scaffolding on each block sits at least one vacant storefront.

“There’s a tremendous amount of them, and the stores are hurting,” said Community Board 7 Chair Roberta Semer, who added that the board plans to weigh in on pending City Council legislation aimed at reducing the amount of time scaffolding is required to stay up.

“From the board’s standpoint, thriving retail makes for a thriving community,” Semer said.





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