By Michael McDowell
The Upper West Side is experiencing an epidemic of empty storefronts. But in the past year, a new trend has emerged: essential hubs like pharmacies and supermarkets are cutting back on hours.
The CVS Pharmacy at Amsterdam and 96th Street, which was previously open 24/7, now closes at midnight.
“It was a corporate level decision,” an employee explained. “It’s the same thing with hours. They can cut you in half one week, and you might have full hours another week,” the employee shrugged.
Nearby locations, such as a store at Broadway and 92nd Street, are open 24/7, the employee assured the Rag.
CVS has not responded to a media inquiry.
A few blocks away, a Duane Reade at Broadway and 102nd Street, previously open 24/7, now closes at midnight.
“Occasionally we change the hours of operations at our locations to continue best serving the needs of the community,” a spokeswoman for Walgreen Co., which owns Duane Reade, told the Rag.
A manager on site had more to say.
“Theft is a huge problem, a huge problem,” she shook her head, with a nod toward two police officers in uniform, stationed near the checkout stations.
“And we’re not getting a lot of sales overnight,” she added.
Deputy Inspector Timothy Malin, of the 20th Precinct, and Deputy Inspector Seth Lynch, of the 24th Precinct, agree that theft is a problem, and not just after midnight.
“I’d say it is a 24/7 problem,” Malin wrote, in an email.
“However, there are definitely some thieves that prefer the overnight. In particular, we have some guys that consistently steal cases of beer from 4 Amsterdam (Duane Reade) during the midnight shift,” Malin continued, referring to a location at 59th Street.
However, it’s unlikely that theft alone has led to the cutbacks, Malin and Lynch agree.
“I was speaking with the regional loss prevention director from Walgreens a week ago, and we spoke briefly about the closing of the Duane Reade at 325 Columbus. Of all my Duane Reade stores, this one [had] the lowest incidents of theft. However, the site simply was not profitable for the company,” Malin wrote.
Although the Fairway at Broadway and 74th Street is open 24/7, both of the Upper West Side’s Gristedes—at Broadway and 103rd Street and Columbus and 84th Street—now close at midnight.
“Sales went down for midnight to 6 a.m.,” said John Catsimatidis, CEO of Gristedes Foods and the Red Apple Group.
“But don’t forget, when the state increased the minimum wage, it took almost every retailer into the dumpster. Everybody says they want workers to get paid more, so who pays for it? People are tiptoeing through the tulips,” he said. Catsimatidis has been operating on the Upper West Side since he opened his first store in 1971 on 99th Street. He’s also been involved in politics, running for mayor in 2013 and losing in the Republican primary.
Catsimatidis refers to the Minimum Wage Act, which required so-called “large employers”—businesses who employ eleven or more employees, tipped food service workers excepted—to pay New York City employees at least $15.00 an hour as of December 31, 2018.
“[When that happened], you had to look for places to save,” Catsimatidis said. “Like the amount of people employed.”
Gristedes let go of 100 employees as a result of the minimum wage increase, according to Catsimatidis.
Although some politicians—notably Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer—are fighting to keep supermarkets open, Catsimatidis argues that many are making it more difficult for grocers and other retailers to operate.
“The City Council only knows how to increase things,” he said. “For example, they create congestion, and then charge you for congestion pricing. None of the legislators look at the city or the state as a business. They take a problem, and pass it on to the taxpayer.”
Congestion pricing was included in the New York state budget, and is scheduled to be implemented in 2021. It’s an unusual analogue to the minimum wage, but plays into his larger argument about regulation making it harder for small businesses.
“It’s very sad,” Catsimatidis said. “We’ve been funding our supermarket operation, and anybody else would have closed it. Anybody else. But some of our employees have worked here for 30 years, 40 years!”
“Tell me, how badly are retailers doing? How many have gone bankrupt? How many supermarkets and restaurants?”
On a recent late night visit to one of the remaining 24/7 stores, a few customers perused quiet aisles. Cashiers scanned their phones.
“I got six hours this week,” one employee said to another. “Only fifteen last week.”
Her colleague was busy restocking a shelf. “No surprises there,” he sighed.