Thursday: Meeting to ‘Save Our Stores’ on the UWS

A grassroots group called UWS Save Our Stores is holding its first Town Hall Meeting on Thursday and local politicians will explain their plans to stem the tide of closures in the neighborhood. The meeting, headlined, “Vacant Storefronts and Visions for Neighborhood Revitalization,” will take place from, 6;30-8:30pm, at The New York Society for Ethical Culture, 2 West 64th Street (Side entrance, on 64th Street; wheelchair accessible.).

The group sent the following description:

“This Town Hall is a chance to share with the public the complexities, challenges, and possible solutions that UWS SOS members have unearthed over last year regarding the blight of empty storefronts and how we might revitalize our neighborhoods–particularly those on the Upper West Side, which was identified as a “hot corridor” by a Department of City Planning report.

We are expecting a powerhouse of elected officials, each of whom have addressed the issue with either proposals, legislation and/or current bills, including Controller Scott Stringer, MBP Gale Brewer, NYS Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, NYS Senator Robert Jackson and City Council Member Helen Rosenthal.”

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    1. Sherman says:

      This “powerhouse of elected officials” is a joke.

      None of these politicians have proposed anything constructive to end the number of vacant storefronts in the neighborhood. They are all coming out with nonsensical and useless proposals in an attempt to convince their constituents they’re actually doing something useful.

      Gale Brewer, for instance, came out with a “Storefronters” program a few years ago to help small businesses. By all accounts it was a flop. She is now calling for a “database” that landlords must complete so she can figure out which landlords are “forcing out” small businesses. This is an undue and useless bureaucratic burden on landlords, many of whom are actually small businesses themselves.

      The fact is many small businesses simply can’t compete with online shopping or big box stores and there’s very little politicians can do about it. Just today The NY Times had a long article about Amazon’s clout in Baltimore and how many small stores have closed because of Amazon (and to be fair, many small businesses in Baltimore are thriving because they teamed up with Amazon).

      If these politicians really wanted to help small businesses there are some ideas that might help. For instance, they should pass laws limiting how long scaffolding is allowed to remain. It seems to me that there are some stores in the neighborhood that have been blocked by scaffolding for years. This can’t be good for business.

      These officials should also crack down on where the homeless in the area congregate. There are certain streets my wife avoids because they are basically homeless encampments in front of stores.

      Also, the $15 minimum wage – which every single one of these politicians supported – isn’t exactly good for small businesses who were barely staying alive before this was enacted into law.

    2. CCL says:

      One word. Scaffolding.

    3. lynn says:

      I wish this was something that i could attend, but I’m having eye surgery that day. Is anyone else from the forum going? I hope I can make it to the next town hall because I really believe that we’d make more progress discussing things in that venue rather that just complaining about it in the WSR.

    4. mplo says:

      The more stores and other businesses close down, the less revenue that comes to a given neighborhood or neighborhoods, and the fewer jobs are available for local residents of these areas..

      • Sean says:

        Local residents don’t work in these stores. The cost of living on the UWS is high.

        • RF says:

          This is correct. Many retail workers travel considerable distances from the outer boroughs to work on the UWS. And in fact, as much as people like to hate on chains, big companies like Trader Joe’s and Starbucks often offer additional perks (health benefits, 401K, tuition assistance, opportunities for advancement or to transfer to another location, etc.) that at least make the long commute a bit more worthwhile.

    5. CCL says:

      Just saw NYPost story about scaffolding taking over the City. Yay. We need to keep this horror on the front pages so that we don’t lose our businesses or our culture before it is too late.

      • Sean says:

        What culture is that?

        • CCL says:

          Store fronts. Windows. Light. Architecture.

          • Sean says:

            You have scaffolding because the buildings are old and no one has the money or will to make necessary repairs. And people in rent stabilized apartments on fixed incomes do not spend. I don’t think people on dates window shop anymore after a quiet dinner for two.

            • CCL says:

              It’s not about window shopping. It’s about unattractive and uninviting dark dank sheds in front of and covering entrances of restaurants and stores so that no one wants to frequent them. Scary and unsafe feeling as well.

        • JanH says:

          A cultute of people being out and about on the streets of a vibrant neighborhood and interacting face to face with other human beings.

    6. Upperwestsidewally says:

      Chances are 10,000:1 that you are reading this on-line. And thereby hangs the entire problem. Just take a look at the scores of home delivery trucks – USPS packages, UPS, Amazon in Ryder trucks, DHL clogging our streets.
      Has nothing to do with Brewer or deBlasio; it’s the UWSers own shopping behavior.

      • Sean says:

        Yes and most of the civilized world as well. I do not understand what is supposed to open in these empty spaces. Copy shops? Most people print at home if at all. I haven’t shopped local in years.

      • Susan M says:

        I agree with you. Many UWSers I know are contributing to this issue by buying online instead of shopping local.

    7. Sailingsam says:

      Trader Joe’s are thriving.

    8. your_neighbor says:

      Another meeting to talk about landlords subsidizing failing or no longer competitive businesses by controlling rents?

      Above most of these stores are rent controlled and rent stabilized apartments where the owners are given miniscule increases that don’t even meet the increase in building expenses. With the new law even people making $1M a year are now protected against increases. It is no wonder that the building owners are trying to make a profit in the only place they are allowed to.

      Perhaps some of the people who post here would be happy if their employer told them that they deserve a big raise but the government says that it can only be increased by 1%, or even 0% as happened several times recently.

      A large number of the businesses that moved out were pushed out by amazon and other online retailers and will never be competitive again. There are several businesses recently highlighted by the WSR that thought out of the box and are doing quite well.

      • Bronx Boy says:

        How does keeping storefronts empty for months or years equate to “making a profit”?

        Above most of these stores are rent controlled and rent stabilized apartments where the owners are given miniscule increases that don’t even meet the increase in building expenses. With the new law even people making $1M a year are now protected against increases. It is no wonder that the building owners are trying to make a profit in the only place they are allowed to.

    9. Mark Moore says:

      Stringer’s report said citywide commercial vacancy was below 6 percent. It must be at least twice that on the UWS.

    10. Anthony says:

      The only thing to do is to get consumers to care enough to not order from Amazon etc…

      most of the activism on the issue is hypocrisy at its finest. people in my buildig rail against the loss of local, small businesses. these same people are the ones most reliant on online shopping. i know this because we have a shared package area.

      and a good number of them are using Fresh Direct and other grocery delivery programs. Why live in Manhattan if you’re going to order groceries??

      stop blaming big business. the reason small businesses are leaving is because local residents care more about saving a dollar.

      • Bronx Boy says:

        “Why live in Manhattan if you’re going to order groceries?”

        I order groceries because of my 12-hour-a-day job. I live in Manhattan because it’s the center of the Universe.

      • RF says:

        “Why live in Manhattan if you’re going to order groceries??”

        …because the grocery options on the UWS are far from ideal? So many of the stores have closed, and the long lines and excessive crowds at the few remaining options don’t make for a pleasant shopping experience.

        Also, why is it wrong to be concerned with “saving a dollar?” I’m sure there are some Upper West Siders who can afford to pay double for something in order to “shop local,” but for many of us that simply isn’t in the budget. I can save money by shopping online, can shop in my pajamas at 5 AM, have many more brands/options to choose from, AND have big or bulky items delivered right to my door. What is the incentive to choose otherwise?

        I’m a former small business owner and agree that local businesses are an important part of the neighborhood, but times change, and retail isn’t the way forward. I’ll happily spend money at local restaurants, coffee shops, hair salons, etc. These types of businesses are an equally important part of the UWS, and they’re things that I cannot purchase online.

    11. UWS40 says:

      The UWS has been losing stores since the 80s when developers started pushing out Mom and Pop stores.

      Where were these politicians then?

    12. Buddy says:

      First of all, making your feelings and your ideas known to people who’ve been elected puts pressure on them to do something about an issue, if for no other reason then they want to keep their jobs.

      Second, most empty storefronts are not in buildings that are rent stabilized or rent controlled. The main reasons for vacant storefronts are brutal competition from ecommerce, brutally and ridiculously high commercial rents, and the brutal landscape in which the city afflicts small businesses with extra taxes, regulations, and so on.

      If you care about your neighborhood, or at least the environment in which you live you own daily life, why not try to improve it?

    13. Paul Kovalevich says:

      Don’t let the landlord’s write it off as a tax write-off no tax breaks for landlords with vacant storefronts hit the landlord’s in their wallets

    14. Josephb76 says:

      Small businesses are the life line of our communities. When a small business gets shuttered, that affects the community directly. When we lose many businesses in an area, the community is affected adversely.
      And how elected officials, even the handful that we like, can walk by seemingly endless vacant commercial spaces without actively addressing this plague is simply unconscionable. And although we voted for them, REBNY (Real estate board of NY) seems to be governing our city. No politician that wants a continued political future will dare take on real estate barons. Sad, but true.
      And, yes, Amazon is responsible for the demise of brick and mortar retailing. However, I’ve yet to order a martini online. And so what is the excuse for real estate types for neglecting the hospitality industry? Restaurants, diners, bars, etc. which, in effect were responsible for the UWS renaissance back in the 1970’s. It wasn’t retail to a large extent.
      And less we forget that in a city where we’re over taxed and burdened by wasteful, albeit failed, programs, our city loses vital tax revenues from every commercial space that remains vacant.
      And where is our community Board, whose priority has been an anti-car agenda? Where are the resolutions to HELP our community by addressing this vacancy neglect?
      I’ve spoken to a few real estate types who try to explain to me the justification for these vacancies. Some say that the landlords can’t reduce the rents of vacant spaces because of their assessed revenue value to the banks. So, our communities continued to erode because of bad business commitments by the landlords? So an absentee owner, living in Boca Raton, is making bad decisions from a spreadsheet while poolside.
      Truth be told, real estate types run this city, not elected officials. At least not when it comes to this crisis. These are some of the same politicians who once cheered on the Big box chain stores who were once suppose to enhance our city. (I walked out of a breakfast that presented the “Malling of Broadway” over 20 years ago presented by then-councilperson Ronnie Eldridge.)
      And now, the big box stores are packing up, closing and leaving a scorched earth footprint throughout the city. At the end of my block alone, on Columbus Avenue & 76th, we now have what I call “the four corners”…4 vacant spaces that were once occupied by a Starbucks, a Chase bank, a Duane Reade and an Indian Restaurant. Quite frankly, the only thing missing in this scenario is tumble weed, and that should come soon.
      Finally, I’ve attended enough “save our ma and pas” town hall meetings in the last 20 years to understand that they’re useless. Yes, there’s a lot of noise, and promises, but nothing is actually accomplished. So this illusion continues. Town halls will continue. And false promises will be made from politicians who, in effect, are powerless in addressing the problem, let alone fixing it.
      Whatever happened to the “vacancy tax” whose proposal was just smoke, and nothing else.
      What’s needed here is long term vision by someone, or a few, who have the courage and focus to take on the real estate barons, whose bad business decisions continue to devastate our communities.
      Let’s just not hold our breath waiting.

      • Sherman says:

        There is not a landlord in this city who is deliberately keeping his space empty in order to impress his banks.

        I’m not sure who these “real estate types” are who feed you this crap.

        And that Starbucks, Chase bank, Duane Reade and Indian Restaurant likely closed because there is a Starbucks, Chase bank, Duane Reade and Indian restaurant already on every few blocks of the UWS.

        When there is overcapacity businesses close.

        And more restaurants are not clamoring for these empty spaces because the restaurant business is notoriously brutal in NYC and the $15 minimum wage is not helping matters.

        Your nonsensical rants about some secret conspiracy of wealthy fat cat landlords living in Boca Raton and destroying the UWS are paranoid garbage.

        If you’re so angry about small businesses closing then maybe you should send a letter to Jeff Bezos.

        • Yoma says:

          If the rents are attainable, the stores will come. And who sets the rents? Landlords.

          Why can’t the politicians pass a bill (effective in 2020) that would fine landlords every month their street-level space remains vacant after 6-8 months since the previous lease expired– or in the case of long-empty spaces, every month after Date X, 2020. If the fines exceed a monthly rent, I bet the landlords would look pretty hard for tenants. At this point, I never see anyone even looking in these empty spaces.

          Bueller? Bueller?

          • Sean says:

            No they won’t. The UWSiders will not shop like the tourists do in the meat packing district. Down on Columbus Ave. in the 60s the high end retailers come and go.

          • Jay says:

            Landlords don’t set the whole price.

            The building value, taxes, utilities, regulatory requirements, etc. are all sunk costs that the landlord doesn’t get to negotiate.

        • Abemark says:

          You fail to mention how much the owner of the Indian restaurant’s space wants in rent per month. @250,000 a month is absurd. No restaurant could possibly stay in business and pay that. So let’s not rule out brazen greed so quickly.

          • Sherman says:

            @ Abemark

            There is an Indian restaurant on the UWS whose landlord demands $250,000 per month in rent?

            This is $3M per year. I find this absolutely impossible to believe.

            Please provide your source for this.

            Sherman

        • Sean says:

          I’ve been told to expect a lot of sales on these smaller buildings on the UWS. The heirs of the current owners do not want to continue on as landlords. They sell to real estate groups who are only interested in profit. They have no other interest in the community.

        • Bronx Boy says:

          —————–
          Sherman says:
          December 3, 2019 at 2:40 pm
          There is not a landlord in this city who is deliberately keeping his space empty in order to impress his banks.
          —————–

          So what IS the reason landlords are deliberately keeping stores empty on the Upper West Side? Because if the question were supply and demand, the rents demanded should fall until somebody moves in.

      • Sean says:

        The West 70s is populated by boomers living in rent stabilized apartments on fixed incomes. They do not stay out late or spend. The co-ops don’t want bars or restaurants in their buildings because of the noise and added insurance. That area of Columbus Ave. shuts down at 10pm. There is no one out.

    15. Craig Slosberg says:

      People – Shop Local. That is how small shops stay in business. DONT BLAME THE LANDLORDS, THEY WANT TO RENT THEIR STORES.
      Scaffolding, high RE Taxes, building permits that take 6+ months to obtain, over bearing city regulations, excessive minimum wage rules, all hinder small business success.

    16. Sean says:

      What kind of businesses will open? People on the UWS complain about everything under the sun. Restaurants and bars are too noisy if a garden is used. Pet daycare places have barking dogs. The list goes on and on.