There’s “growing demand from a diverse range of retailers” for Manhattan storefronts, the Real Estate Board of New York crows in its spring 2022 survey of retail activity. The claim might be true, but growing demand doesn’t immediately or necessarily translate into a big reduction in the number of vacant stores.
The metrics for the past six months cited by REBNY definitely show improvement. Average asking rents per square foot in nine of 17 major shopping corridors grew from the fall of 2021 — suggesting that the market is stabilizing after two years of declining rents.
Soho and upper Madison Avenue are seeing interest from high fashion, sportswear and home decor companies.
One year ago, most large new leases were for food and beverage and fitness users. A new, 14,000-square-foot Swarovski lease at 680 Fifth Ave. not only fills a long-dark space, but represents a move upmarket from the Gap outlet that previously filled the three-level venue.
Another big reclamation at a long dark location is Taiwanese eatery Din Tai Fung’s 26,400-square-foot deal at 1633 Broadway. The Michelin-starred noodles-and-dumplings mecca, to be designed by David Rockwell, presumably will draw a more sophisticated clientele than tourist-trap Mars 2112, which closed 100 years early in 2012.
REBNY credits the fitful recovery to rising consumer demand and a rise in visitors to the city despite Omicron, higher transportation costs and worries about crime.
Even so, it might be a long time before Manhattan’s retail scene fully rebounds from the one-two punch of the pandemic and the online shopping revolution that began taking a toll before anyone heard of COVID-19.
For all the new leases, store windows in many Manhattan areas — residential and commercial — remain full of “Prime Retail Space” signs.
The REBNY doesn’t cite retail vacancy rates, which are covered in a separate report later in the year. It emphasizes instead that asking rents have ticked upward or at least held their own in the various corridors.
But as my colleague Kerry Byrne wrote recently, long slices of Broadway look abandoned at sidewalk level. While its Soho portion thrives (along with the rest of Soho), Broadway south of Houston Street has precious few actual stores beyond hair salons and a few funky art galleries.
Madison Avenue still reels from the losses of Barneys, Brooks Brothers and most recently, Harman Kardon. Empty windows haunt pedestrians, especially in the East 60s.
Vacant storefronts actually outnumber filled ones in parts of the FiDi area. The closing of Century 21 — which supposedly will reopen with much less space next year — cast a pall across from the World Trade Center. Fulton Street can boast of thriving Brookfield Place and the rejuvenated South Street Seaport at its east and west ends, but between them lies a depressing sea of vacancies. Even neighborhood fast-food places and shoe-repair shops closed and have yet to be replaced.
So while it’s legitimate to assert that a nascent recovery is taking place, let no one think that all those “for rent” signs will disappear soon.