The New York Times notices a great number of shuttered shopfronts in Manhattan and, after consulting with experts, decides it’s because “New Yorkers have drastically cut back” on the things they buy from the stores, such as “expensive shampoo at 24-hour drugstores, cheese plates at sleek wine bars and clothes at minimalist boutiques.”
It is observably true that Manhattan commercial real estate vacancies are up to a staggering 12 percent, and other boroughs are coming up fast. But store sales aside, every New Yorker knows at least one story of a greedy landlord who even in these parlous times would not ease up on a distressed commercial tenant’s rent — if you don’t, take Joe Jr.’s. Maybe it’s not so much that New Yorkers are spending 12 percent less on staples, and more that landlords aren’t much willing to come down from 100 percent of rent (or 200 percent, for that matter).
The Times addresses this: City council legislation that might give commercial tenants some protection, they say, “does not have the support of the Bloomberg administration,” which argues that because “rents have declined,” there’s no need for it. Besides, a broker tells them that landlords really want to keep existing tenants, despite the evidence of our eyes and ears, which seems to show that they’re holding out hope that some sucker will still pay them golden-age rents.
Maybe they’re talking about tenants like Starbucks, which is using its power as a chain to push for rent reductions for many of its stores. And a quick look around local streets shows that banks have had no trouble paying their rents and even opening new ATMs and branches. So maybe soon neither we not the Times will be troubled by closed storefronts — they’ll all be occupied by Starbucks or Bank of America. And that’s what makes this the greatest city in the world, or will be redefined to make it that. Photo (cc) Neubie.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 21, 2009