It’s officially a meme: The New York Times, following in the footsteps of WNYC and WCBS-TV, has an article today on how business at stores on 161st Street has cratered after the new Yankee Steakhouse and Baseball Stadium opened this year. A sample of the Times‘ contribution to the genre:
While working in his father’s souvenir shop up the block, [Saeed Alawy of Pin Stripe Collectibles] recalled, there was no time to fold the T-shirts before selling them. Customers were lined up three and four deep at the counter yelling out orders and tossing wads of bills.
“They were throwing the money,” Mr. Alawy, 47, said.
Over the course of an hour on Monday, just 13 shoppers wandered into Pin Stripe Collectibles and Mr. Alawy made only four sales, for a total of $107.
One could nitpick that there wasn’t actually a game in the Bronx on Monday, but the other reports indicate that it’s a problem even on game days: The Yankee Tavern’s owner told WCBS that his business is off 20 percent this season, while the Concourse Card Shop’s is down by half. “This playoff is totally different,” Jeans Plus manager Abdul Traore told WNYC. “Saturday, I stayed here from the time the game start until 2 o’clock in the morning, I don’t even make a thousand dollars” — compared to $5,000 on a typical game night at the old stadium.
The surprise here should be that anyone is surprised. “What a shocker!” exclaimed sports economist Robert Baade of Lake Forest College when he was told that Yankee neighbors are suffering. “When you look at this new generation of stadiums, they’re little walled cities. They’re trying to capture as much spending as possible inside the stadium, and that really works against spillover to the neighborhoods. Why go out into the neighborhood if you can get everything you want right there?”
Joyce Hogi, a Grand Concourse resident who was one of the leading opponents of the Yanks’ stadium project (and who warned in Congressional testimony two years ago that the new eatery-packed edifice could hurt local businesses), says it’s “regrettable” that many local merchants testified in favor of the project, thinking it would help their bottom line. “We tried to show them how the plans were drawn up to shepherd fans from the garages and trains right into the stadium,” she says. Sure enough, she continues, this season “from the first day, the police put up barricades and would not even let fans walk up the street.”
Meanwhile, there are worries that things could get even worse for local stores, thanks to a rezoning of 161st Street that was quietly pushed through the city land-use process and approved by the city council last month. In zoningspeak, the new district replaces much of the 161st Street shopping corridor’s old C8-3 designation (no housing, only low-scale commercial) with a new C6-3D zone, allowing residential or commercial buildings with a floor area ratio of 9 — which in practice could mean a 20-story condo tower rising on the site of Stan’s Sports Bar. But we’re sure that if that ever happened, they’d bring the ghosts with them.