A study conducted by Douglas Elliman Real Estate found that one in five New York retail spaces is sitting vacant; these spaces are boarded up and attract vandalism, drug-dealing, and other unsavory activities. The rate has more than tripled since 2016.
Landlords insist that they're not to blame and that there's no price-gouging going on. Meanwhile, retailers who've spent decades in the same storefront are disappearing, and blaming massive rent hikes for their closure.
New York's soaring property values are the source of great anxiety to all but the unmeasurably tiny minority of New Yorkers who own property. Landlords benefit from leaving properties vacant, collecting tax-credits and warehousing stock until a national brand comes along and pays top dollar. In the meantime, vacant buildings reduce footfall in a neighborhood, weakening the retail fortunes of neighboring businesses.
There's an irony here: much of New York's institutionalized racism can be blamed on "broken windows policing" — a discredited theory that holds that cracking down on the kinds of small crimes you get in vacant buildings (graffiti, littering, etc) will prevent bigger crimes. But while policing people around abandoned buildings does nothing to reduce crime, there's mounting evidence that policing vacant buildings themselves is a powerful way to reduce crime and improve the lives of people in the neighborhood. Forcing landlords to rent out their vacant buildings means fewer places for drug use, dealing, muggings, and other petty crimes that make whole neighborhoods dangerous.
Bleecker Street, once emblematic of bohemian culture, has morphed in recent years — at least west of Seventh Avenue — into a corridor for designer flagship stores and trendy boutiques willing to pay upward of $25,000 per month for modest-size spaces.
Today, the stretch has become one of the most extreme examples of retail blight in Manhattan, with dozens of empty stores. Many hangers-on are renting on a pop-up basis with month-to-month leases.
"It's depressing to walk down Bleecker Street now," said Danny Silberstein, 26, a local resident. "It's like a ghost town."
This Space Available [Corey Kilgannon/New York Times]
(Image: Ralph Hockens, CC-BY)