Retail Chains and Small Businesses Are Struggling in N.Y.C.

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The owners of Bank Street Bookstore, a 50-year-old children’s shop on the Upper West Side, were looking forward to busy shopping seasons.

Bryant Park Grill & Cafe, in Midtown, was expected to remain one of the country’s top-grossing restaurants.

Then the coronavirus crisis pulled the rug from underneath them.

The lack of tourists and commuters has devastated New York City, especially Manhattan. Since March, more than 2,800 businesses in the city have permanently closed, according to data from Yelp. And by the time the pandemic is over, one-third of the city’s 240,000 small businesses could be gone forever, according to a report by the Partnership for New York City, an influential business group.

Bank Street is closing for good this month. The owner of Bryant Park Grill & Cafe said he would never open another restaurant in the city.

Even the national chains, like J.C. Penney and Subway, are not immune to the economic pressures and have shuttered locations in Manhattan, according to my colleague, Matthew Haag, who covers New York real estate.

[Read more about the plight of the city’s small businesses and retail giants.]

I asked Mr. Haag more about the topic. Here’s an edited version of our conversation:

Q: What is the state of brick-and-mortar retailers in New York?

A: All types of retailers, both national brands and mom-and-pop stores, are struggling. But it is especially the case in Manhattan, where shoppers have disappeared because there are very few workers commuting into work, tourists are at home and many local residents have gone to their second homes or work remotely back at home with their parents.

Fifth Avenue, Times Square and Madison Avenue — some of the most prestigious retail spaces in the world — look like ghost towns.

How has the pandemic affected small businesses specifically?

Small businesses have been hit particularly hard because most do not have the resources like a national chain to survive a few days or weeks with little to no revenue, let alone five months. Some received federal aid, such as the Payroll Protection Program, but the funds have been used by now.

The smallest of small businesses — the businesses with one employee — were surviving on a weekly $600 federal stimulus check, but that benefit ended.

Landlords are also asking for rent, and small-business owners simply cannot afford what they used to pay.

What about the big chains in Manhattan? Are they paying rent?

Some national brands, such as Target and CVS, have stayed open because they were considered essential businesses. But others, especially apparel shops, have reopened stores elsewhere in the country, but not necessarily in Manhattan. That includes Victoria’s Secret, Gap and even the T.G.I. Friday’s in Times Square.

A town in the Hudson Valley has the fastest-rising home prices in the United States. [Bloomberg]

More than 20 percent of the city’s summer school students never logged on for online classes. [Chalkbeat New York]

An ice cream truck driver is plowing through a street barrier in Brooklyn, neighbors say. The police are investigating. [New York Post]

Foster Kamer writes:

Nothing is truly discovered until a certain subset of New Yorkers try it out. And what have we discovered now?

Cars! Buying and leasing, four wheels, the smell of gas and the joys of the open road. Emissions-spewing, fossil-fuel-guzzling automobiles — have you heard? They help you leave places quickly, and in a hermetically sealed bubble where the only expelled aerosols we have to inhale are the best kind: our own.

For a large segment of city-dwelling, taxi-taking, Citi Biking New Yorkers who swore off private transport long ago, the prospect of owning a ride here seemed at best unnecessary.

Then came the coronavirus, and now getting a car is suddenly a good idea.

Since mid-March, quarantine-weary New Yorkers have been buying more cars. And like bicycles before them, there’s a shortage of vehicles available at dealerships, particularly in the city.

According to data provided to The Times, the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles processed 73,933 original car registrations in the five boroughs over June and July, an 18 percent increase over the 62,507 registrations from the same time last year.

So many New Yorkers are hitting the road that last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio went so far as to advise them not to buy cars, saying that the vehicles represent “the past.”

Clayton Mantell, the sales manager of Ramsey Subaru in New Jersey, has noticed the surge. “Easily 50 New Yorkers in July,” he said, when normally “it’d be like 10.” Many were first-time buyers.

“A lot of them just need an escape pod,” Mr. Mantell said.

And for some recent car purchasers, like Troy Kelley, buying was the financially prudent thing to do. He had to get to work in Manhattan from New Jersey; the shuttle service he normally used shut down, and he was ripping through money on private cars.

He ended up with a used white Mercedes C300.

“I’ve never really enjoyed driving, per se,” he said, “but it is good to have the freedom.”

It’s Thursday — vroom, vroom.

Dear Diary:

The day my father turned 75, I flew down to Miami and met his neighbor as previously arranged.

In the hallway on their floor, the neighbor wrapped me in the gift paper I had brought along and stuck a glossy red bow in the middle of my forehead. Then I waddled to my parents’ door and rang the bell.

My father opened the door on the second ring.

“Happy birthday, Dad!” I cried out.

He backed away quickly, perhaps in shock, though I saw tears in his eyes.

“Annette,” he called to my mother, shaking his head. “You’re not going to believe this. It’s the New York City daughter here for dinner!”

— Jane Seskin

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