Opinion: Solving Broadway’s Retail Dilemma

A “for rent” sign on Broadway from earlier this year.

By Barbara Adler

Retail is in a slump nationwide. In New York City, major shopping and tourist destinations are full of vacant shops. Broadway, once the grand, divided, green boulevard that stretches the length of Manhattan and beyond, has seen an unprecedented number of shop closings.

On the Upper West Side, our once thriving avenues, particularly Broadway, are full of vacancies. People love to blame “greedy” landlords, accusing them of “warehousing” commercial spaces, and holding out for above-market rates. Local politicians talk of imposing additional taxes on landlords who hold vacancies past a given time period, even though landlords do not reject reasonable leases, and are loathe to pay the hefty commercial taxes year after year on shops that have no incoming revenue.

Let’s be honest, we all know that online shopping is the major culprit, though no one likes to own up to it, and most of us are guilty of going to the Amazons on the internet before shopping locally.

I am not a landlord or shopkeeper, nor have I ever been. However, I was the founding director of one of NYC’s business improvement districts (BIDs) on the Upper West Side for the past 20 years. Several years ago, we built a small, sustainable streetscape block, turning it from a blighted stretch to an attractive go-to destination. We’ve never stopped getting kudos for this little project, and the reason is that we gave people what they were looking for: lush spaces to meet, sit and enjoy, with varied environmental enhancements and city-friendly amenities.

Of course, there are several areas in the city now where streets are closed to traffic for a stretch — cars replaced with seating and potted plants — improving noisy and congested areas enormously. This concept has been replicated all over the world, with fantastic results, creating oases for neighbors to meet and greet, put life back into shops, and experience what it really means to be part of a neighborhood.

We need help here on Broadway’s Upper West Side. I’ve been an Upper West-Sider for 59 years. I’ve seen the area change dramatically over those years. Rethinking how to make our shops buzz once again with activity is long overdue. I am not a city planner, regrettably, but I’d suggest that a group of professionals and knowledgeable locals work with city officials to create the ideal concept, the same way we did so many years ago when we created our little sustainable streetscape block. Hold a few workshops, get the ideas together, then work with DOT and/or Parks to make something really happen.

My own initial ideas include making a dedicated bike lane and bus lane on Broadway, and closing off a stretch to traffic; opening up the beautiful Broadway Malls, so this ribbon of green oasis can be enjoyed by more people; adding ample seating with tables, a greenmarket and other healthy items, passive entertainment such as chess, possibly food stalls, and other enticements to lure residents of the greater area to meet and mingle. Invite all retail and restaurants already in the area to play a major role. Hold neighborhood meet-and-greets in the newly created space with locals, politicians, and activists sitting down and discussing relevant topics. In other words, create a local vibe that becomes a magnet for all ages to enjoy.

In Europe, Australia and elsewhere throughout the world, areas such as this are plentiful. Neighborhoods support their thriving local shops and are environmentally conscious. Perhaps most importantly, people are friendly and respectful of one another, treating strangers like neighbors, and truly feeling part of a community.

Barbara Adler is a member of Community Board 7.

COLUMNS | 86 comments | permalink
    1. Sherman says:

      Your work in putting benches and gardens in front of this schoolyard is commendable and made this stretch of Columbus much nicer.

      However, it did virtually nothing to save local businesses in the area. There are still plenty of empty storefronts close to this school.

      A handful of flowers – however well-intentioned – are no match for Amazon and big box stores and changing consumer tastes.

      Nevertheless, if politicians really want to help small businesses they should crack down on homeless vagrants and illegal street vendors, both of which are quality of life problems which impact residents and local businesses.

      For instance, there’s basically a homeless encampment in front of the McDonald’s on 71st & Amsterdam. This can’t be good for small businesses in the area.

      I would also like to add that the $15 minimum wage, Commercial Rent Tax and various other fees are hurting small businesses…..but I don’t mean to digress…..

      • BA says:

        Columbus Avenue BID area has maintained between 93-95% occupancy over the past two years; substantially higher than most other districts.

      • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

        tenants below $250K a year in rent are exempt from the Commercial Rent Tax. given the skyrocketing rents, that should probably be raised.

    2. carol mills says:

      Upper west side when are we getting some restaurants

      • CAL says:

        When are we getting more restaurants? When there is less scaffolding that makes them ugly, scary, damp and dark, and when dogs are no longer allowed in them.

        • uwsgrl says:

          Dogs are not allowed in restaurants, just in the outside enclosures. Personally I have yet to see a dog misbehaving during mealtime, in fact many behave better than humans.

          • CAL says:

            Behavior is not the only factor. And yes. Owners are more the issue in many cases. It’s just. Some people don’t want to or are allergic to eating next to your dog.

    3. Ira says:

      Some good ideas some not so. I’m not thrilled with the city being further hijacked by the bike lane movement.But that’s another discussion.
      That said, what will bring stores and shoppers back to Broadway and Columbus for that matter are the economic realities that force property owners to lower rents and business owners to create businesses that provide some advantage over on-line shopping.

    4. Harriet F. says:

      I love all your ideas, particularly about using the Broadway Malls area for pedestrians.
      However, we need to address the bottom line issue. New York (and most of the rest of the country) is never again going to need the amount of retail sq footage we have in the past. The real question is what to do with those spaces? Time for commercial landlords to recognize retail storefronts are no longer a cash cow and begin selling them off to non-profits. What if 1/3 of the currently vacant spaces were made available to non-profits,either arts-related or community assistance related. This will only begin to happen when the myth of making BIG money in commercial real estate dies, which may yet be a decade or more away. It’s never coming back to what it was folks. Look to the future, stop trying to re-create the past. BTW, I have never forgotten a NY Time Magazine article in 2002 (!!!) which said that the US had about 40% more space dedicated to retail than we would need by mid-century. Obviously, it’s happened sooner than projected.

    5. geoff says:

      So, you’re one of the people!

      That school ground / Sunday flea market site is an outstanding design and realization, so much so that I believe it contributes mightily to the success of that ever more poplar market, not to mention the increased traffic for the farmers market, kitty corner. And, because the museum development has forced (?) the market to reposition itself around the corner, it too is. that much more attractive, visually. It certainly draws me in more than it used to.

      I’m imagining the Broadway mall, with its seating at either end of the block opened up, as you suggest with a narrow pathway, lengthwise on each block, leading to seating areas and pretty spaces. Not a copy, but based on the concept of the High Line.

      Well done!

    6. Bill Williams says:

      If online has hurt local merchants then landlords need to adjust rents to attract merchants. That’s capitalism.

      If you’ve been here for 59 years then you know that for most of that 59 years Broadway and the UWS was a crime ridden drug infested area.

      Of course the drunks, druggies, mentally ill and homeless that are still here already find a nice place to gather in the existing Broadway “green spaces”. We hardly need to make more space for them.

      And why does the UWS need a “ribbon of green oasis” down the Broadway when we have not one but TWO amazing parks no more than 3 bloacks away from everybody.

      What you, Transportation Alternatives and CB7 need to get through your heads is that this is NOT Europe!! It will never be Europe and most of us don’t want it to become Europe. Stop trying to gut the city

      • DenaliBoy says:

        Williams hits it right on the head.Iwas born during WW2 and have seen the UWS change over the years. From my perspective though substance abusers and mentally ill are not new to the UWS, the volume of mentally ill and homeless are staggering, even compared to the dark 70s. I always thought that my wife and I would love for our son and his family to return to NYC. Eventhough that could afford to live in NYC I just feel they can have a better life not here. My wife and I travel a great deal and find that it’s less and less of a thrill returning to NYC. Extending/revamping the Bwdy Malls is a waste of time and money.

      • Josh says:

        I hear “New York is not Europe!!” all the time. It’s just as important keep in mind that New York is not Westchester and it’s not Iowa. The Upper West Side is one of the densest residential neighborhoods in the United States. Cars are simply not an efficient, or pleasant, way to move people around at UWS densities. We have to use cars, buses and public transit.
        Some people love their cars. But the UWS is a uniquely car unfriendly place, and I wish people would stop trying to turn it into a parking lot. If I wanted to live in suburban New Jersey I would.

      • Maddi says:


    7. Scott says:

      I don’t know what to make of those before and after pics. Are you saying you removed a basketball court and replaced it with a brick path and some cars?

      Speaking of cars, they have nothing to do with the retail decline. Turning Broadway into a pedestrian mall won’t improve the quality of the retail, or make me want to shop more.

    8. Minimalist says:

      Some of it is that a lot of us just don’t buy much (on or offline). My apartment is under 500 square feet and I share it with a husband and child. No room for much stuff and I’d rather spend the money traveling. Plus a lot of stuff is eventually more landfill (apart from groceries of course) and I don’t want to clean it all lol.

      • Sean says:

        It is a question of demographics. I think a lot of people already have enough stuff in very small spaces. Twenty somethings are the only ones who need stuff. Can they afford it? Street level retail is a thing of the past just like the milkman.

    9. Sid says:

      I should add, I am also in favor of Ms. Adler’s proposals for bike and bus lanes, and opening up the Broadway Malls!

    10. Marco says:

      That would be amazing as a born and bred upper westside (and still here after 40 + years) I would give me time to helping this cause

      • LL says:

        Same here, been here nearly all of my life, happy to help.

        Amsterdam from 89 to 88th is unnerving. The Subway/pizza place is gone, as is the 99¢ store, the laundromat, the drycleaners, the Dominican restaurant, and the nail salon. All that remains is Bodrum and the eyeglass store, though I know a restaurant is coming to the Subway/pizza place.

        I don’t know what is going on but I bet part of is that the places that could afford the rent – banks, Duane Reade, CVS – are downsizing as people now increasingly bank and shop online. It is not good for our streetscape

        I mean, the old Banana Republic has been empty for 5 years at least, since it moved into the Gap’s old space, and Club Monaco has been empty for a good 2 years. And the Gap/Banana Republic space has been empty for over a year as has, I believe, the Gristedes. What will go into those spaces?

        The benches prettify the streets, yes, but it does not change the fact that those places are empty, empty, empty.

        Artie’s has been closed how many years?

        The Walgreens that had been the Wiz, how long will that take to be occupied?

        The movie theater on what, 100th street, that has been closed for I think 15 years. This is insanity.

        I do not think it is fair to compare NY to European cities. I was just on Riverside and 88th and there were men out front sorting piles of Amazon boxes. Once people buy online they are not going back. All the pet-owning people in my building buy off chewy. How long will.Petco survive? And I remember for a brief time right before Petco opened up there was this cute independent pet store on like 92nd. Did not last very long as it closed soon after Petco opened.

        Our shopping habits haven’t been amenable to mom and pops for years, and now, it appears, they are not amenable to box store shopping period

        • RF says:

          Just to add, I’m a longtime Upper West Sider currently living in a European city. Everyone here buys everything on Amazon as well. The death of retail is not an NYC-specific problem, or even an American one.

        • George says:

          That Amsterdam 88/89 block has two major restaurants opening in the near future: Pekerna, a Slovenian restaurant will take up the two spaces furthest north on the block. And Amsterdam Ale House is opening a second location between Bodrum and the old laundromat.

        • Ellen says:

          I was thrilled when Petco opened on Broadway, but soon discovered that shopping at Chewy online provided more knowledgeable customer service than my local Petco. There is hardly ever anyone on the floor at Petco and certainly no one who is knowledgeable about your pet. Their shelves are mostly empty and I can barely ever find anything I am looking for when I do venture in there. Just my 2 cents.

        • M says:

          Well said – how about getting storefront rents down. And not letting them go empty because it is a tax advantage.

    11. Adam says:

      How do you propose that the businesses who are adjacent to these bus only, bike only, pedestrian only lanes get deliveries? If a “mom and pop” wanted to open an appliance store, how do you propose that they have refrigerators and ovens delivered? Boy was this thought out.

      • Kevin says:

        There are 2 options, both of which are easy:
        1) Exempt trucks making local deliveries from the restrictions (similar to 14th street)
        2) Create large loading-only zones on the side streets around the car-free blocks so trucks can pull in next to the curb and make deliveries from the side streets.

        The second proposal would probably be my preference, but I can see merits to both.

        • CAL says:

          On CPW where all the cars are gone and the bike lane was widened for “safety”, there are now trucks and buses in the lane all day. Much more dangerous. Cannot see around them. Bikes have to swerve much wider and pedestrians cannot see them coming. Well done, City!

    12. Reed Rubey says:

      Great ideas, Barbara. Getting life back on the streets and building community is good for all of us. And, good for commerce. Thanks for your article.

    13. B.B. says:

      Broadway was conceived and designed to be a major north/south thoroughfare. Shutting down parts of it for a pedestrian plaza or whatever will only force traffic onto avenues east or west.

      Maybe UWS residents and others should take walk over to UES. Yes, there are vacancies, but Third from high sixties into 80’s and beyond has seen plenty of empty spaces rented. Some weren’t vacant very long before being rented again.

      Maybe it says something about the purchasing habits (and or spending power) of UWS residents that is keeping places vacant.

    14. Elaine Toth says:

      Good article. However let us remember, DeBlasio has his hand on the landlords wallet all of the time.
      He needs more tax $$ to pay for his pet liberal projects.
      Amazon replaced the shopping event. Pathetic , people are so lazy and don’t get off their couch to patronize their neighborhood.

    15. ML says:

      Native New Yorker here – and completely opposed to changing Broadway.
      Do not agree with closing off to traffic and installing seating.

      Multiple issues:

      Would not help the remaining small businesses.
      But lower rent would help local businesses! (Take a look at the commercial areas in Riverdale – very few vacancies)
      Chains have already turned the West Side into a mall.

      Food stalls would hurt local businesses and would result in increased garbage – paper/plastic wrecking the environment plus rodents.

      Even with a “dedicated” bus lane, believe this would have a negative impact on bus transit and hurt people who use buses.

      Closing Broadway would mean more spillover traffic elsewhere.

      Deliveries would be difficult – more hardship for low-wage truck drivers, store staff etc.

      The West Side is fortunate to have Central Park and Riverside parks, the Museum of Natural History park, a number of playgrounds, park area in NYCHA complexes, and multiple small/vest-pocket parks (including 71st near West End, 66th St subway, 72nd Street subway, 87th St near Columbus, 89th Street near Columbus and more)

      My family has decided to eliminate Amazon purchases. We walk or take bus/subway to shop locally, even if it costs more.

      All of us have a choice to be kind and respectful. I would certainly welcome more kindness – but it is completely unrelated to closing Broadway to vehicle traffic.

      Please leave Broadway as is!

    16. Great article Barbara, and thank you for all your years of service to our community. Your work and writing are all about issues of critical importance to our community [It only took twenty-one minutes for readers to start commenting]

      I am a retailer, having enjoyed serving my beloved UWS for twenty years at HENRY’s for twenty years. I am also a parent of a young kid and the son of aging parents, all trying to live life on the streets of the UWS. I think it is important for me to add to this commentary.

      Bill Williams comments, “And why does the UWS need a “ribbon of green oasis” down the Broadway when we have not one but TWO amazing parks no more than 3 bloacks [sic] away from everybody.” Before he goes on to bash Europe. Bill, two parks is hardly enough, when there is so much public space being given to roads for cars – by one estimate over 90% of publicly available space in NYC is being given over to the use of the private motor vehicle, and that includes parks!

      Barbara and many commentators here are rightly focused on Broadway’s business climate. Retail, nationally and locally, is in a period of profound change. What Barbara’s writing and work are pointing us towards is a new vision of urban streetscapes. Scott comments, “Speaking of cars, they have nothing to do with the retail decline. Turning Broadway into a pedestrian mall won’t improve the quality of the retail, or make me want to shop more.” THIS IS THE CRUX OF THE MATTER.

      Many shop owners, co-op owners, renters, board presidents and local elected officials miss the same connection as Scott in response to Barbara’s vision of a calmer, safer, more human-scaled streetscape on Broadway in the heart of our neighborhood. “Broadway was conceived and designed to be a major north/south thoroughfare,” as BB comments. However, we now know from many cities all around the world, and FROM OUR OWN CITY, that cars are literally killing urban centers. From the air we breathe, to the streets we walk, to our independent retailers that move on, our current streetscape is not sustainable for the life we seek.

      I would even add that co-op boards are not doing their fiduciary duties if they do not advocate for safe street redesign, as the current streetscape is reducing our property values. UWS’ers, young and old, demand a modern design for our most treasured public amenity. Throwing away this treasured asset on free parking for thousands of personal motor vehicles, while thousands more speed through our streets and pollute our air, is a legacy that Robert Moses and Henry Ford sold us years ago. It’s a legacy away from which we must move. All the cars on our streets are not creating quality of life for our citizens and businesses, they are killing them.

      Henry Rinehart
      proud owner of HENRY’s for many fabulous years

      • lcnyc says:

        Henry, thanks for weighing in. I greatly miss HENRY’S and was sad to see its replacement didn’t work out. Your commentary is spot-on. Making Broadway and other major corridors more pedestrian friendly will encourage people to stroll and, perhaps, make some impulse purchases. I have a car, but I wholeheartedly support any initiative to make NYC more difficult for drivers.

      • Ladybug says:

        and what about all of the school buses illegally idling on the side streets during the day – either waiting to pick up their charges from the AMNH or from the schools???? And how about the double parking now on BOtH sides of the avenue on Columbus and Amsterdam leaving any vehicle only 1 lane on which to travel. Enough is enough – start policing all of the delivery trucks, the school buses and the BICYCLISTS who for the most part continue to ignore ALL traffic rules including riding in their designated bike lane and riding in it in the right direction. The neighborhood is CHAOS!!!!

    17. John says:

      I appreciate the author’s ideas. I’m REALLY interested in finding the truly alternate uses for retail itself on the UWS…. An architect-colleague recently told me that he’s moving his high floor commercial Chelsea practice to a ground floor retail space, because he finds the retail flexible and open with lots of possibility (and good rent).

      We’re seeing it with kid’s schools taking retail at Columbus Square where I live. Like everyone else I’d like to see the 100th Street Metro Theater become a performing arts or art house film place or even an all-ages roller skating rink where musicians play (now I’m getting into my early 2001 Bushwick Rock and Rollerskate Party days….) Indoor farmers’ markets with spaces to eat and drink when the weather turns cold?

      It’s those challenging big spaces, where Duane Reade or Petco or even a supermarket close up shop, that I find really puzzling.

      This may be a lightening rod of a comment but would big box spaces ever be able to rezone residential and build out as co-living or micro-living mini complexes serving those who will trade space for lower monthly rent, insta-community and upgraded housing stock?

      Halloween Adventure saves us but once a year and unfortunately it doesn’t look like WeWork is going to fix this.

      Any other ideas along this same vein?

      • RF says:

        This is definitely the right train of thought! People who think that “mom and pop” shops are suddenly going to make a comeback are sadly mistaken. Times are changing, and those days are over. (How many people really want to go back to paying $6 for four rolls of toilet paper, when they can buy a month’s supply on Amazon for the same price, AND not have to worry about lugging it home?) Instead of trying to revive the mom and pop, a better plan would be to find new uses for those retail spaces, as you’ve suggested. Experiences–sip n’ paint studios, climbing gyms, etc. are a great fit because they can’t exist online. As for the larger spaces you’ve mentioned, dividing them into smaller stalls and creating sites such as food halls would be interesting. These are popular in many other parts of the city, but there aren’t any on the UWS. And with the number of grocery stores dwindling and “grab and go” options limited, a food hall or marketplace of smaller vendors could do quite well.

        • dc says:

          RF, agree. The trend seems to be more about “experiences” than “stuff.” And with so many creative, talented, smart people living here, the possibilities abound.

        • Barbara Adler says:

          Thanks for your input. Great ideas!

    18. Ben B says:

      Lovely article. I appreciate the action-oriented approach. Let’s get some people together and dream up a change. This is the only way change will occur. How can we take this further?

      I do think that there are several reasons for the retail vacancies. Amazon and online shopping are definitely taking a bite out of brick and mortar. But, the retail rents are too high for this neighborhood. I work in commercial real estate and I believe that there is a market for commercial shops – especially with the density of people.

      The West Village (similar rents to the UWS) is going through the same issue as the UWS. Rents jolted up in the 90s and Aughts but have plateaued and are coming down. There are fewer vacancies over on the UES near Second and First Avenues. That is because commercial rental rates are half (or less) than what they are on Broadway. There is more opportunity over there right now for local businesses to open shop.

      There is pressure to keep rental rates high for political and economic reasons. If “Shop Owner A” leases space at $150 PSF and a year later “Shop Owner B” leases a comparable space for $100 PSF, then “Shop Owner A” will have to renegotiate their lease with their tenant – or the tenant will leave. There is pressure on landlords and brokers to keep rents high for that reason. No one want’s to be the guy that broke the market… but the reality is that it’s already broken. Commercial rents are coming down – albeit slowly.

      Further, the recent changes to the rental regulation laws (residential units) are severely limiting the value of buildings that contain rent-stabilized units. It’s a lot for landlords to grapple with.

      I do think that there needs to be a change and the residents are the best people to do it. There is a market on the Upper West Side for additional retail -, especially on Broadway. I like the ideas listed in this article and I think that we should develop a community group that can come together to initiate change.

      • Mitch Jacobs says:

        Unfortunately I cannot think of anything one cannot buy online except a restaurant meal, a haircut, and a manicure. Welcome to the internet. Sorry. The world has changed.

        • uwsgrl says:

          More workout options would be good, and also require a decent amount of space so they could fill some of those larger spaces that are open. Besides Soul Cycle, I can’t think of another spin studio from 75th-96th (or above–not counting classes at gyms where you have to be a member). I also can’t think of any “boxing” gyms like Rumble, or other specialized classes that people take downtown. It’d be nice to have variety and have options closer to home.

        • RF says:

          Experiences. Sip n’ paint, climbing gym, pottery studio, children’s classes/indoor play space, art gallery/classes, spin/bootcamp/workout options, improv theatre, pole/silks/dance, cooking school. Performance/concert space. Community center. Coffee shop. Comedy club. Food hall featuring small local vendors. There have been studies showing that millennials, and plenty of non-millennials as well, choose to spend their money on experiences rather than material things, which I think is especially true in a city like New York where nobody has a lot of space.

    19. SM says:

      Can we see some numbers please? We all comment hypothetically of retail sales down, greedy landlords, high taxes, etc.

      But if we can break down the numbers, it will become a lot clearer to everyone.

      For example, if someone with knowledge of the business, an existing retailer or a retailer who has closed down could provide:
      – Avg rev/sq ft
      – Rent/sq ft
      – taxes
      – costs to run the business

      It will become clear where the problem is – and also what levels of each (rev, rent, taxes) would be required to make owning a retail store viable.

      This would help when the CB gets involved in figuring out a solution.

      And closing off stretches of Broadway, adding bike/bus lanes WILL NOT, in any situation, help retail. It will REDUCE foot traffic, make pickup/deliveries MORE difficult and push people to shop ONLINE even more. Most daft suggestion I have heard on a solution to the retail problem (which the opinion piece is about).

    20. wetsside gene says:

      For those of you who are confused by the before and after pics, a couple of observations. Before pic is looking uptown. After pic is facing downtown. Do you know how many parking spaces were removed to do this project?. The answer is 0. Yes, you can do great things without disruping things that make make the city function. If you take away
      enough parking spaces and travel space for vehicles, the city will become impossible to access, and you will have even more empty stores.

    21. msk says:

      We were in Lyon France this summer, a city that is bisected by two rivers. On the bank of one river, the city had created a pedestrian friendly park and recreation space with walking/running/bike paths, playgrounds, water parks and grass areas. At night, the park was mobbed with people, parents with young children in the playgrounds, young adults picnicking (and drinking) on the grass, walkers, runner, bikers. Barges, docked on the riverbank, converted into floating bars and restaurants, were packed with people eating and drinking and enjoying gorgeous views of the river and the sunset. People were lining up to get into the bars and restaurants. My wife and I were stunned and wondered why the same environment could not be created on the UWS. BA is right, we need some creative thinking from our government with ideas about how to get people out of their apartments and out of their cars and creating pedestrian friendly spaces where people want to congregate (and spend money at local businesses). Maybe that means loosening the outdoor sidewalk rules to allow for more outdoor seating, maybe it means rethinking the allocation of commercial space in the parks to attract more people. It also means trying different things and being tolerant of change, such as closing off a stretch of Broadway to cars, install seating and inviting food trucks or vendors in order to draw people out. If they can close parts of Broadway near Times Square, they can do it on the UWS. Look at Brooklyn Bridge Park, a desolate area was turned into a vibrant thriving gathering place, same with LIC waterfront and Brooklyn Navy Yard. Perhaps we need to rethink how we allocate public space (streets,parks) and public resources (taxes) so as to better serve and preserve the community. Based on the number of Amazon boxes in our lobby, the retail ship has sailed. Why give tax breaks to corporate HQs but not to a local restaurant or bar or small entrepreneur that makes the neighborhood feel lived in and preserves RE values. We cant rely on the status quo and old thinking, thank you BA for proposing new, creative solutions.

    22. AC says:

      Property taxes in Manhattan have skyrocketed over these past 10 years, leaving landlords with no other option but to pass on the burden to the renter. Thus resulting in High asking rents. The only ‘people’ who can pay these high rents are Duane Reade, Chase, BOFA, Trader Joe’s, etc.

      You can not expect landlords to expended 10 dollars in operating/maintenance costs and collect 5 dollars in rent. That is a Huge ‘hit’ and NO one is in business to lose money.

      Lower taxes and watch asking rents become competitive, as they drop.

      • Bronx Boy says:

        Replying to the comment below from A.C.:

        I keep reading this sort of defense from the Greedy Landlord lobby, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense. The taxes are what the taxes are; holding a property off the market for months or years doesn’t guarantee that a rent-indifferent tenant will show up, especially for the smaller storefronts. Clearly the asking prices are too high for the kind of commercial tenants that find the neighborhood attractive.

        It would be interesting to see a history of NYC property taxes to support the idea that they have skyrocketed.

        AC says:
        October 30, 2019 at 9:13 am

        Property taxes in Manhattan have skyrocketed over these past 10 years, leaving landlords with no other option but to pass on the burden to the renter. Thus resulting in High asking rents. The only ‘people’ who can pay these high rents are Duane Reade, Chase, BOFA, Trader Joe’s, etc.

        You can not expect landlords to expended 10 dollars in operating/maintenance costs and collect 5 dollars in rent. That is a Huge ‘hit’ and NO one is in business to lose money.

        Lower taxes and watch asking rents become competitive, as they drop.

      • Ben B says:

        Taxes have increased as a proportion of property values. Taxes are phased in over time and several properties have caps such as an 8-30% limitation or a 6-20% limitation which limit increases in favor of the property owner.

        It is standard for a commercial tenant to sign a modified gross lease which means that the tenant covers increases in property taxes over the base year in which they signed the lease. The tax burden is negligible on a per square foot basis as compared to the rent being charged by landlords.

        Landlords can afford the taxes and they pass along the burden to tenants. Banks will lend on properties that have vacant storefronts and assume “market” rent for the vacant space (which is too high considering the number of vacancies). So, a property owner can often take cash out of their property — which benefits the owner.

        Rents need to come down to accommodate struggling business owners and so that our neighborhoods can have additional amenities. Rents are coming down, albeit slowly. It’s a blow to the industry.

        More restaurants, cafes, art house theatres, fitness cneters, community facilities, and other service-oriented shops, please.

    23. Buddy says:

      Excellent comments from neighbors who don’t warm to the idea of more bike lanes and “mall green spaces,” which we do not need. It’s particularly interesting that this “opinion” exempts landlords from contributing to this retail crisis–of course they have! Someone else whose business wasn’t marketing for the real estate industry might have pointed that out–but the writer, who is in fact a real estate marketing professional, conveniently chose not to do so.

    24. Excellent article by the woman who was instrumental in the revival of Columbus Avenue. Clearly, she knows what she is talking about!

    25. Deb says:

      I wanted to share, if you have not heard of us that UWS SAVE OUR STORES (UWSSOS.org) is an organization formed by a group of local residents in the last year and dedicated to stopping the epidemic of long-term vacant storefronts and improving the quality of street life on the Upper West Side. We have made tremendous inroads to understanding the many factors that make up this problem.

      We are holding a TOWN HALL MEETING
      “Vacant Storefronts and Visions for Neighborhood Revitalization: Challenges & Solutions”. Our Legislators have been invited to present at this meeting. THIS IS YOUR OPPORTUNITY to hear first hand what our legislators are doing about this.

      Thursday, December 5, 6:30pm-9pm
      Location: NY Society for Ethical Culture at 2 W. 64th St. @ CPW
      Guest Speakers: Several Manhattan, City and State officials.

      IN ADDITION, we are holding UWSSOS’s GENERAL MEETING on NOV 4th / 6:30 Upper West Side Location
      PLEASE RSVP to uwssos@gmail.com for details. Space is limited.

      We are looking for volunteers to join our efforts.

    26. Missy says:

      People are not going to pay double to support a local retail store when they can save both time and money shopping online. Retail is not going back. People only need so many calories so there becomes a point when restaurants are maxed out in a neighborhood. The vacant storefronts are going to have to serve other needs.

      • UWSer for 42 years says:

        Missy, Agreed.
        And it is not only about the calories. Eating out has become exorbitant. Can’t eat at the diner for less than $25. If rents are high, food ingredients high, wages high, there is no way to have a profitable restaurant without high prices. The UWS is not a “dining destination” neighborhood. Clearly storefront use has to be rethought.

    27. Martin Platt says:

      At Columbus Square (Columbus between 97 & 100) high rents have forced out two anchor stores on the East side of the block – Petco over a year ago, and Duane Reade just this month. These are both LARGE stores. They will sit empty for years rather than providing services to the community, because of landlord greed. Obviously it is as advantageous to have the properties empty as it is to have them, occupied – or the landlords wouldnt force Duane Reade out. There is a small little Duane Reade at Columbus and 93rd, where all of our Rxs have been moved. I was told there, clearly, that the otehr location closed because of a rent hike. We need two things. Commercial Rent Control, and vacancy tax.

      • B.B. says:

        For (hopefully) last time; Petco closed because founder/president died. He ran the business as a sole proprietor, and none of his heirs knew enough about the business, nor cared to learn to keep it going.

        Entire chain was liquidated and folded up shop.

    28. Josh says:

      I love this idea. UWS retailers are now competing with Amazon, but they’re also competing with other neighborhoods. People aren’t going to travel for a Duane Reade or CVS, but there are plenty of people who will travel to SoHo or Fifth Avenue for more variety.
      Basically every other shopping district in the city is oriented around cars. We need some variety! Why doesn’t Manhattan have a single pedestrian oriented shopping district?
      If we want to help fill some of these vacant store fronts then we need to give the UWS a competitive advantage. Catering to people who want to stroll around shop in a pleasant, outdoor environment will give us a huge leg up. Some people might not like it, but they can always go to SoHo!

    29. Ground Control says:

      Sorry. The vacant stores have a little to do with on-line shopping. They have mainly to do with rents and it is disingenuous to say otherwise. Were your argument correct then the Bed Bath and Beyonds, the Targets, the Marshalls would suffer a similar fate but they don’t. It’s the rents being charged by real estate big and small. If they give a small business a break from $10,000 a month to $8500 that really doesn’t help on a rental that should be $5000 to begin with. In parts of town where leases were long, buildings are owned by the store occupant, and the rents did not explode small businesses are doing fine. The UWS is suffering from many ills. But retail blight is one that could be easily solved were the will there. And part of that effort must include changes to the tax laws which make it beneficial to leave retail vacant. And were there commercial rent control those stores would be thriving.

      • Sean says:

        Wrong. Bed Bath and Beyond is about to file for bankruptcy because it can’t compete with online sales.

        • Ground Control says:

          Sean-Bed Bath and Beyond is not suffering because of its presence in NYC. They have 1000 stores. They will close 40. They are looking to renegotiate leases-ie. lower the rent!

      • Sherman says:

        There is no “tax law” that makes it beneficial for landlords to leave space empty.

        I’m a CPA and I know a thing or two about tax law.

        Stop spreading ignorant nonsense!

        • Ground Control says:

          Wrong again Sherman!! “banks will devalue a property if it’s occupied by a small business, and increase it for a chain store. “There’s benefit to waiting for chain stores. If you are a hedge fund manager running a portfolio you leave it empty and take a write-off.””

          • Sherman says:

            Your comments make absolutely no sense. Trust me, I know a tad more about this stuff than you do.

            And don’t lecture me about “write offs”, Kramer.

    30. Shirley Ariker says:

      Perhaps online shopping is a factor, but I know of one place that closed because the landlord levied a 50% increase.

    31. Get artwork in the empty windows and let the artists sell their work and give percent to owner and/or broker!

    32. Margraret Mueller says:

      Barbara Adler was instrumental in fighting against the zoning proposals to protect small businesses. I think she should answer to that.

      • Barbara Adler says:

        If you are speaking about the Special District that our Borough Pres. Gale Brewer put into place, we (the Columbus Ave. BID) were opposed to it because we were worried about unintended consequences. We are seeing those consequences now, because large spaces that could be gyms, museums, art studios, or whatever would have to be subdivided under the ordinance that was put in place for the UWS, making them too small for any of those uses mentioned above.

    33. Nasty Nate says:

      I think that we should melt everyone’s car and sell the scrap metal to fund more parks, bike lanes, and bus lanes. Car owners are the scourge of this great city. I am sick of boomers complaining about almost getting hit by bikes all the time. Most of the times I witness a near miss with a bicycle it’s because someone is waiting in the bike lane for the walk signal to change, or jaywalking. I love all the old car obsessed farts who hoot and holler about ticketing bikes for running reds. Y’all never cross the crosswalks with the red hand? Give me a damn break. Ped vs. bike collisions resulting in serious injury or death are incredibly rare. 5 people since 2011 have been killed in incidents like this. How about people killed by cars since 2011: 1,123! How about cyclist killed by cars since 2011? 225+
      So miss me with your, “BiKeRs aRe OuT oF cOnTrOl AnD rUiNiNg ThE nEiGhBoRhOoD” bs. If you were serious about maintaining parking spots for residents you would push for resident parking permit programs in the neighborhood. There’s plenty of damn room for your dumb cars if you do that. But instead it’s always – down with the bike lanes! They’re so dangerous!! They’re not. Look at the numbers and look both ways when you cross the street.

    34. JMB says:

      It’s not the rent as much as it is the very high property
      taxes that have increased at astronomical numbers in the last 5 to 6 years
      If the City continues on this track it will get worse.
      Penalize the Landlords with higher taxes is plain foolish.

    35. David Schiif says:

      Where was the small, sustainable streetscape that you built. The article doesn’t say and I couldn’t tell from the photo

      • Christine E says:

        The photos are of the west side of Columbus Avenue between 77th and 76th. The “before” photo is the corner of the schoolyard at 76th and Columbus. The “after” photo is the sidewalk gardenscape (plantings, benches, solar lights) alongside the schoolyard east fence.

        Both photos appear to be taken while standing at 76th and Columbus, though looking in different directions — northwest vs north.

        The schoolyard is where the Sunday flea market operates. That you don’t recognize the before photo means that it has indeed improved!

    36. Rob Baiocco says:

      Perhaps we should try an inexpensive marketing campaign that works to make the Upper West Side a destination. We have amazing and unique “destination” shops, restaurants and neighborhood draws: Original Fairway, Harry’s, Barney Greengrass, AMNH, Central and Riverside Parks, etc. The best way to help support our local businesses and garner additional revenue is with an influx of new shoppers/diners/visitors from outside the neighborhood. Otherwise, we are just trying to get all of us to shop and spend twice as much.
      I would be happy to create the marketing campaign that promotes our gem of a neighborhood.

      • LEE APT says:


    37. Joy Weiner says:

      Since retail space is over abundant and housing is in short supply , perhaps convert first floor spaces in to affordable housing. Retail is not coming back and the landlords may have to bite the bullet on the value of those street level spaces.

    38. Maddi says:

      I have owned my apartment on the upper west side for over 40 years and am very unhappy with the direction things are going. The areas that have been closed off to traffic that I can think of are commercial areas. Times square, Wall street…. This is a residential area – people LIVE here. And some people that live here need cars for transportation, for work and just some space for visitors. Our board seems to have forgotten that. We have a beautiful park – actually several – for everyone to enjoy. And what has happened. Our aging community has now lost parking spaces and street safety to bicycles. I ma more frightened to cross the street because of bikes than cars.
      Bikers are put there getting exercise. With a park drive, a Columbus Avenue bike lane downtown and Amsterdam Avenue one up town why is there any bike lane on a street where it must be on the same side as a bus.
      Where is the traffic enforcement for bikes
      They are wheeled vehicles that have no restrictions and yet they get more and more of our street and traffic space that they don’t use responsibly any way – if they use them at all.
      Yes – I have a car. I park in a garage. I head straight for a bridge or tunnel avoiding use in the city if I can. I walk, I take the subway in town but I firmly believe we need to be remembering that this is a residential neighborhood. And respect all the residents.
      My idea – do what Hoboken does. Street parking during some daylight hours is restricted to residents only. And residents I do believe can get ID’s for a nominal fee. Actually I had one in Morristown NJ. Everyone else had two hour limit.

    39. Bridget says:

      I never planned to die by getting hit by a bike or a scooter. No rules , no licenses , no sense.
      Green space does not mean more bike lanes!!!!.

    40. Sean says:

      It’s the end of an era.

    41. Ladybug says:

      and what about all of the school buses illegally idling on the side streets during the day – either waiting to pick up their charges from the AMNH or from the schools???? And how about the double parking now on BOtH sides of the avenue on Columbus and Amsterdam leaving any vehicle only 1 lane on which to travel. Enough is enough – start policing all of the delivery trucks, the school buses and the BICYCLISTS who for the most part continue to ignore ALL traffic rules including riding in their designated bike lane and riding in it in the right direction. Put the energy into what is already here and make it work before yet another “IMPROVEMENT” project begins.

      The neighborhood is in CHAOS!!!!