The Empty Storefronts in New York City
Wishing for the halcyon days of yore when mom-and-pop shops dotted New York City doesn’t explain or address today’s retail realities.
Among the varied reasons to consider: Retail space inventory is rising, demand is falling and online purchases are undermining the economic viability of brick-and-mortar stores across America.
Local government has increased the burdens on retail stores: rising real property taxes, the New York commercial rent tax, living-wage requirements, paid sick leave and byzantine land use regulations.
It would be ironic, and legally dubious, to add to these costs by taxing vacant storefronts. The overwhelming majority of landlords would love a rent-paying tenant to occupy their retail space instead of leaving it vacant. It is the economically rational thing to do. http://commonpitchnyc.com
Market forces are adjusting and prices are falling. In fact, the Real Estate Board of New York’s latest retail report shows rents softening by 25 percent along the same Bleecker Street corridor cited by The Times.
Public and private sectors should face facts and work collaboratively to bolster the retail market.
Blaming landlords for high rents in New York City is a political judgment, not an economic one. At least half the rent being paid by anyone (either residential or commercial) is passed through directly by the landlord to the city for real estate taxes, water and sewer charges and miscellaneous fees.
In many instances, the rest of the rent is applied by the landlord to utility costs, fuel costs, insurance costs, and miscellaneous repairs and maintenance. It is a fortunate landlord who gets to retain more than 10 percent of the actual rent payment.
Before blaming “greedy” landlords “mightily for this blight,” remember that this is a complex issue that has become political fodder in a city where tenants have an overwhelming political majority.
A plague of empty storefronts disfigures villages, towns and cities from sea to shining sea. Predatory online pricing, not “online shopping,” is the primary source of this problem, as retail stores cannot afford to sell goods at cost or below.
Federal and state antitrust enforcement against predatory sellers would help preserve a healthy mix of brick-and-mortar retail stores.
The second serious problem, as you rightly point out, is the greed of landlords who force successful retailers out of sustainable spaces in search of richer tenants, who rarely turn up.
Reversing this trend will require a system of tax penalties, credits or rent regulation in coordination with state, county and city governments.
BRUCE JOSHUA MILLER, CHICAGO
The writer is a book publishers’ representative who sells to brick-and-mortar bookstores.
To the Editor:
Your editorial suggests several reasons for empty storefronts in New York City: rising rents, the growth of online shopping and the city’s onerous tax burden.
But you don’t mention another obvious culprit: the set of labor laws and other mandates that the city has imposed. A partial list includes a city-supported minimum-wage mandate, a paid-sick-leave mandate, a recently passed employee scheduling mandate, labeling requirements and many more.
Each time the city imposes these laws, business owners warn that these laws can harm businesses — mostly by raising costs above what shoppers can afford. Rarely does one law cause a business to go under. But the cumulative effect is a major reason there are so many empty storefronts.
As the owner of a closed restaurant put it, “We do the numbers, and they don’t work anymore.”
It is important to understand the devastating impact of these laws on otherwise viable businesses. Rolling them back is one way to enable entrepreneurs with very little in the bank to profitably run the businesses that once filled now-empty storefronts.