Stores Can Now Sell in ‘Outdoor Activity Zones’ Though It’s Not Clear That They Will

By Amelia Roth-Dishy

Mayor de Blasio has launched the Open Storefronts program to let stores sell their wares outside. The city hopes the program — like outdoor restaurant seating — will give the stores flexibility for small businesses to safely attract shoppers as the holidays approach.

“Stores will be able to display merchandise, complete transactions, and provide areas for customers to line up, as long as the business meets the eligibility criteria identified by the City,” the Lincoln Square BID said in a press release.

Businesses have to preserve an 8’ clear pedestrian path and conduct their activity no more than 5’ from the edge of the property. The city calls that the “Outdoor Storefront Activity Zone.” Stores may self-certify online that their setup fulfills these requirements.

The mayor’s office estimates that Open Storefronts will impact 40,000 businesses and support over 450,000 employees. The program began on Friday and is slated to run until December 31st.

But you wouldn’t know it on the Upper West Side. A mildly haphazard qualitative survey conducted by the Rag on Friday afternoon found little, if any, new commercial sidewalk activity happening outside Upper West Side retail establishments.

Most employees the Rag spoke to had not heard of the program or of any initiatives by management to pursue it. At the BlueMercury on 77th and Amsterdam, “corporate” hadn’t said anything about it. Employees at West Side Kids said to come back when the owner was there, but that they hadn’t heard anything. And employees at the Sill and the Strand were doubtful it would happen at their places of work.

Tracy Morse, the manager of the Down and Quilt Shop on 85th and Amsterdam, had indeed heard of the program and thought it was a wonderful offering to business owners. “Any way you can grab people is the best,” she said. But Down and Quilt was already pioneering outdoor sales back in Phase 2 of the pandemic lockdown, as the Rag reported in June.

“We had a table outside with all of our goods and we would literally come to the door and show people,” Morse said. “Now that it’s getting colder, it’s a little more difficult to do that.” She still conducts business outside on an ad hoc basis if customers are uncomfortable entering the shop.

There was little evidence that stores were jumping at the opportunity on its first day. Monica Blum, the president of the Lincoln Square Business Improvement District, told us “so far we have not heard of any but perhaps it is too soon.”

Time will tell whether neighborhood businesses embrace the program, particularly as temperatures drop and stores throughout the Upper West Side develop their strategies for welcoming customers inside at lower capacities.

NEWS | 13 comments | permalink
    1. Frank Grimes says:

      Dramatic increase in unprosecuted shoplifting in local stores + outdoor selling….what could possibly go wrong?

    2. ST says:

      We’ll be walking in the bike lanes and getting runover by e vehicles soon.

    3. Concerned says:

      I’ve noticed the Raymoor and Flannigan on 67 and Broadway has preemptively boarded up ahead of the election. Any other neighborhood stores on lockdown?

      • Burt L Kozloff says:

        I predict that the Town Shop will remain resolutely open even in the face of ravening hordes of looters baying for negligees.

      • Paul says:

        I’m guessing that insurance companies are telling retailers that they won’t honor claims unless precautions are taken.
        I wonder if anyone can shed some light on this…

    4. davidaron60 says:

      Just take a walk uptown, above 135th Street along Bway and also 181st Street east of Bway and you’ll this works. They have been in effect, ad hoc, for months now. Some are typical street vendors, but some are storefront merchants.

    5. JustSayin says:

      This feels a little tone deaf at the moment.

      Where was this months ago???

    6. In June, when we could only do curbside sales, West Side Kids put out tables and racks full of merchandise and took payment at the door. As soon as we could let customers in the store to shop, we did. Business improved. We continue to help people on the phone if they aren’t comfortable shopping in-store. It’s getting cold out. It’s a little late to be promoting this idea. I don’t have the staff to run an outside shop as well as an in-store shop. Everyone wears masks and applies sanitizer when they enter the store. We have “6 foot” and direction arrow stickers on the floor. We limit the number of customers in the store. I think we’re doing a good job keeping everyone safe. But business is still 50% of what it typically is. Please shop local! Call, stop by or order on line for shipping, delivery or in-store pickup. Oh, and VOTE!!! 🙂
      West Side Kids

    7. sam seibert says:

      Sick to death of having to walk in the gutter and dodge bikes because the sidewalks have been taken over by restaurants. Sidewalks used to be for pedestrians.

    8. Xav says:

      Who is NYC’s worst Mayor of all time and why is it De Blasio?

    9. Ano Nymous says:

      Barzini’s on Broadway and 91st has been occupying most of the sidewalk for a long time, making it tough for pedestrians to walk there. A disabled person on a wheelchair or someone with a baby stroller has a difficult time moving in front of Barzini’s, especially in the winter. It is filthy inside and outside, and you can see mice in the store. How many officials do they bribe to evade scrutiny and fines? They are a health and safety hazard in so many ways.