Brewer: Retail blight ‘worse than I thought’

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer (pictured at a recent press conference on the Commercial Rent Tax reform bill) conducted a foot patrol study of vacant storefronts along Broadway. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Two Sundays ago, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, with the help of nearly three dozen volunteers, walked along the length of Broadway in Manhattan, taking note of every vacant storefront they passed. The exercise was for a study on retail blight conducted by Brewer’s office, the results of which were not pretty.

In fact, said Brewer, who strolled a strip from the 60s to the 70s, “It was worse than I thought.”

Along her way, she observed five empty storefronts in a two block radius. “I don’t know how long they’ve been empty,” she said.

She chose Broadway as the street to monitor due to it being a part of so many different neighborhoods. Additionally, from what she’s seen the problem doesn’t appear to be more prolific in some neighborhoods than others.

“In Manhattan, it’s everywhere,” she said.

Now, having done her legwork, Brewer said the next step is to figure out the reasons for the closure besides the obvious, that “the rent is too damn high.” Additionally, from what she’s seen, the problem has gotten worse in the borough over the past 5-10 years.

Interestingly, the observations on the ground come on the heels of a report that Manhattan is dealing with a slowdown in the retail market, part of a nationwide trend.

According to figures from the Real Estate Board of New York’s Spring 2017 Manhattan Retail Report, asking rents for available ground floor retail spaces fell in 14 of Manhattan’s top 17 shopping corridors, compared with the same time last year.

“The overall decline in Manhattan average asking rents is attributable to natural correction from a robust market,” said REBNY President John Banks. He also cited “national retail conditions” as well as e-commerce as factors.

As for how to help mom-and-pops in a time of retail blight, Brewer has been actively supporting the Commercial Rent Tax reform bill being pushed by Council Members Dan Garodnick and Helen Rosenthal, which aims to spare about 3,400 businesses from the tax. At this time, only retailers in Manhattan from Chambers to 96th Street must pay the tax which Garodnick said amounts to half of one month’s rent for the impacted businesses. However, Brewer’s come under some fire from small business activists for not being a supporter of the Small Business Jobs and Survival Act. The SBJSA aims to get small businesses an automatic 10-year lease extender, but Brewer has said it will never pass.

“I’ve been working on this issue since 1985,” said Brewer. “It is a hard issue.”

Her own legislation aimed at making it mandatory for a landlord to negotiate with a tenant when a lease is up, and if need be go into mediation, and even arbitration — though the arbitration would be nonbinding — went nowhere after being introduced over two years ago.

So instead, Brewer said she wanted to turn her attention to empty storefronts, which have a negative impact on surrounding businesses.

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5 thoughts on “Brewer: Retail blight ‘worse than I thought’

  1. Seriously? It takes her going on a walk to see that there is a problem?? This is something we have all seen for years, by the REBNY blinders are on all these politicians. Maybe now we will see a whole hell of a lot more than Dan’s little tax reform.

    Wake up Dan, Gail, Bill… we don’t need any more banks and pharmacies.

  2. Again, a day late and a dollar short. It might be good if Gail Brewer explained honestly and transparently why passing the Small Business Jobs Survival Act is so difficult. So far as I can see, what makes it so difficult is that most politicians wind up in the tank for the real estate industry….because politicians need real estate money m order to keep running for office or if they lose elections decisively, they need friends in the business world to help them on to their second acts…likely acting as lobbyists.

  3. Landlords do not want to lower the ask rental they have established as “market rate” but will give a few months “rent concession” esp if U R renovating. Sign s/b: “For Lease. Suckers Wanted. Bring in your life savings!”

  4. I saw Brewer campaigning outside of Associated when she was last up for election. I did vote for her. If she shows her face around her again I will tell her to buzz off. If Associated is closed by then, the word “buzz” may be replaced by a different word.

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