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NYC storefront vacancies remain stuck at pandemic levels; lower Manhattan hit hard

Téa Kvetenadze, New York Daily News on

Published in Home and Consumer News

Storefront vacancy rates in New York City have yet to recover from pandemic peaks, with Manhattan in particular struggling to bounce back, new city data show.

The issue made headlines during the pandemic, when retail storefronts on many major thoroughfares sat empty as businesses across the city shuttered. The issue was the focus of a City Council hearing Wednesday.

“This vacancy issue, I thought it would end sort of once the pandemic ended,” said City Councilwoman Gale Brewer, D-Manhattan. “It has not. It has continued to be a problem.”

Councilman Oswald Feliz, D-Bronx, chairman of the Small Business Committee, cited numbers from the Small Business Services Department that showed, citywide, storefront vacancy rates currently sit at about 11.2% overall, a number “barely below the peak of 11.3 (percent) at the height of the pandemic.”

“We know that vacancy rates that are high and vacancy rates that are lengthy indicate that something is off-balance,” he said.

About 16,384 of 144,359 storefronts citywide are currently vacant.

Manhattan has consistently reported the highest rates. According to the Small Business Services Department, vacancy is currently at 15% overall, with a whopping 22% in lower Manhattan’s Community District 1, and double digits almost everywhere else.

Brooklyn is similarly high, at 12% on average, while the Bronx and Queens are both at 8%.

Feliz also quoted separate data from the Finance Department that showed vacancies across the five boroughs have been trending steadily upward over the past 15 years or so: from 4% in 2007, to nearly 6% in 2017, almost 8% in 2019 and more than 10% in 2020.


Tian Weinberg of the Small Business Services Department testified that the agency’s numbers show vacancy rates are currently trending downward overall, especially outside Manhattan, with the grocery and nightlife industries doing particularly well.

No single reason was blamed for New York’s vacancy vexation, but a rise in retail theft was raised repeatedly. Other contributing factors mentioned included restrictive zoning, perceptions around public safety, the decline in office work, the popularity of e-commerce and landlords raising rents or warehousing spaces.

Pedro Suarez, the executive director of the Third Ave. Business Improvement District in the South Bronx, told the committee that storefront vacancy in his area was nearly 16% at the end of 2023, a 4% jump compared with 2020.

He cited factors including lasting impacts of COVID-19, rent increases, online competition and “blatant” retail theft.

“Most businesses in the corridor, particularly small mom-and-pop shops, can’t afford to hire off-duty police officers, and so there is a need for additional security,” Suarez said.

But he pointed out that there are larger issues at play.

“A lot of that is also a reflection of poverty rates, folks struggling with mental health as well as drug addiction that are robbing a lot of these stores,” he said. “If that issue is not addressed, you’re going to continue to see high rates of theft.”

Other proposed solutions floated at the hearing included investing in public safety measures, offering small businesses grants instead of loans and funding legal services for lease negotiations.

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