DCP Releases Storefront Vacancy Report
The Department of City Planning (DCP) recently released “Assessing Storefront Vacancy in NYC,” a report that examines retail patterns and storefront vacancies across 24 different neighborhood shopping corridors around the city. Recently, news media, communities, and elected officials have expressed concerns about a proliferation of vacant storefronts, especially in high-profile areas of Manhattan.
The report follows Intro 1472, otherwise known as the “storefront tracker” bill, which the City Council passed in late July. The first of its kind in the country, it requires all commercial storefront and second-floor spaces citywide to register, creating essentially a vacancy database. Once public, supporters say this will help city officials better understand where vacancies lie, and what areas are most at risk.
The bill was part of a package to address struggling small businesses, signifying the Council’s latest intervention to provide some sort of legislative response to the retail collapse of America’s largest and richest city. Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to sign the bills into law.
While there has been much debate and legislative action around the issue of vacant storefronts, DCP undertook this study to develop a data-driven understanding of retail and storefront uses and how they may be changing. DCP examined 10,000 storefronts across these 24 neighborhoods. It assessed the evolving retail landscape nationally and citywide. DCP then conducted case studies of major retail corridors in 24 neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs.
Although the study did identify neighborhoods challenged by high vacancy rates, the report found that this condition wasn’t universal. The report concluded that due to rapid changes in the retail industry across both the city and the country, vacancy rates vary by neighborhood and can’t be explained by one factor. The study found a wide range of conditions, with retail corridors subject to multiple cross-currents that influence retail mix and vacancy conditions in varied and complex ways. These include the rise of e-commerce, demographic shifts, real estate market trends, local building stock, and other conditions that may vary from street to street.
The 24 neighborhoods studied included Morris Park, Longwood, and Kingsbridge in the Bronx; Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brownsville, Cobble Hill, Coney Island, Fulton Mall, Park Slope, and Williamsburg in Brooklyn; Canal Street, Flatiron/Union Square, East 14th Street, West 14th Street, Hamilton Heights, Inwood, SoHo/NoHo, Upper East Side, and Upper West Side in Manhattan; Astoria, Jackson Heights, and Laurelton in Queens; and New Dorp and Port Richmond in Staten Island.
The report broke down storefront businesses into three categories. “Food and beverages” covered businesses like restaurants, bars, and supermarkets. “Services” were businesses like salons, banks, and dry cleaners. “Dry retail” businesses sold goods like apparel, electronics, books, or furniture. According to the report, e-commerce spending increased for dry retail, but brick-and-mortar spending increased for services and food and beverage establishments.
Industry experts consider a 5 to 10 percent vacancy rate as “healthy,” with some fluctuation. In the neighborhoods studied, the vacancy rates ranged from 5.1 percent to 25.9 percent. Higher-end Manhattan shopping corridors tended to have higher vacancy rates. Of those studied, the neighborhoods with the lowest vacancy rates were Jackson Heights (5.1 percent), New Dorp (6.7 percent), Kingsbridge (7.8 percent), Morris Park (8.1 percent), and Laurelton (8.3 percent).