New Yorkers know the empty storefront phenomenon all too well, as myriad factors—the rise of online shopping, higher rents, and the like—lead to disappearing mom-and-pop shops and neighborhood stores across the five boroughs.
Two months after the City Council passed a new bill to create a database to track retail vacancies, a new study by Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office delves into what neighborhoods this trend has impacted the most, why it has impacted them, and what the city can do about it.
Using NYC property tax filings and maps from Live XYZ, a technology company that maps cities, the analysis found that over the past decade, empty and vacant storefronts across the five boroughs rose by almost 50 percent. Their vacancy rate (vacant retail square feet divided by total retail square feet) went from four percent in 2007 to 5.8 percent in 2017.
Though certain Manhattan neighborhoods have a significant amount of vacant square footage, the report says, the highest vacancy rates are in neighborhoods outside of Manhattan, mostly in Staten Island and Queens. The report profiled 24 neighborhoods throughout the city, detailing their retail vacancy rates, the number of vacant storefronts, average retail rent, among other things.
Out of those profiled neighborhoods included, the 10 with the highest vacancy rates in 2017 were Little Neck, Queens (25.85 percent); Throgs Neck, Bronx (17.5 percent); Rossville/Southern Staten Island (16.4 percent); East Elmhurst, Queens (15.96 percent); Oakwood/New Dorp, Staten Island (15.68 percent); Hamilton Heights, Manhattan (14.89 percent); Mott Haven, Bronx (14.81 percent); Coney Island, Brooklyn (14.4 percent); Jamaica, Queens (14.13 percent); and Elmhurst, Queens (12.5 percent).
In all, vacancy rates rose most dramatically in Staten Island, reaching 10.8 percent in 2017, while Queens reached 6.4 percent, the Bronx 6.3 percent, Manhattan 5.2 percent, and Brooklyn 5.1 percent.
The report also found that average retail rents increased 22 percent citywide in the past decade, with Manhattan seeing rapid increase in neighborhoods like Upper West Side and Harlem.
“Even as our economy has grown, many mom-and-pop stores have been left behind, transforming spaces once owned by local small businesses into barren storefronts,” Stringer said in a statement.
The report gives three reasons for the uptick in retail vacancies: the rise of internet shopping (or the Amazon effect); rising rents and higher property taxes; and regulatory hurdles, like the amount of time it takes to get a liquor license or an alteration permit from the Department of Buildings.
The report suggests several measures to tackle the problem, such as incorporating retail demand in major rezoning or development proposals “to ensure that the right amounts and types of retail space are incorporated into the planning process,” the analysis reads. Other recommendations include providing tax incentives for independent retailers in “high-vacancy” retail corridors and creating a multi-agency task force with customer service representatives to assist in “coordinating and expediting the necessary regulatory actions.”
“This isn’t just about empty buildings and neighborhood blight, it’s about the affordability crisis in our city,” Stringer added. “We need to use every tool in the box to tackle affordability, support small businesses and ensure New Yorkers are equipped to succeed in the new economic reality.”
Published in Curbed New York, Sept. 25, 2019