Broadway for Rent

Been trying to do more walking (you know, the 10K steps thing, and tracking it on WalkerTracker), and Jasper has been riding around with me in his ErgoBaby, so we’ve been looking in store windows a lot and talking about what there to see. More and more frequently: dust.

There are always vacancies out on Broadway, and particularly up this far. There have been a couple of shops that have remained un-leased for at least three years across the street from us:

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But the number of shops closing is pretty shocking. And the type of shops.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I am not a New York native and I don’t get all crunchy about grimy mom & pop diners. I like clean, and I like new. I am actually a fan of the new Columbus Square development near our apartment, that some have described as “suburban architecture.” But when I see what is failing it is depressing.

Both the nearby wine bars are dead. Cool little bookshops like Murder Ink died years ago. The fair trade furniture shop at the corner is dead after only about six months. (OK, saw that one coming.) And it seems like a number more stores are on their way out.

What is frustrating is what happens to these places. The vast majority are left vacant–which really makes me wonder. I mean, why kick out a shop that is hitting hard times, but still able to pay something just to end up with a non-income storefront?

The case of Rack & Soul might be a good indication of why. Reviewers and eaters tend to agree that it’s a really good neighborhood BBQ place; better than Dinosaur BBQ down the street. But they also note that the decor has a bit to be desired:

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So, I was excited when they boarded up their main Broadway entrance, with signs directing people around back to the entrance. Even more excited when I saw some of the boards come off, and it looked like a modern, slick build-out. Cool. Great restaurant, now with a more stylish atmosphere.

Then the Verizon sign went up. R&S has been relegated to a back corner, with a slick Verizon retail shop taking up most of the frontage. (To add insult to injury, I overheard someone walking by say “Cool, a new Verizon store.” Really, who gets excited by that?)

I have nothing against Verizon. But there are mobile phone stores on every block. It is not an exaggeration to suggest that we are moving to the point that there will be at least two banks, a mobile phone shop, a Starbucks, and a Duane Reade or other chain drug store on every block.

I was at my bank the other day, and they had closed half the 8 or so ATMs. Four tellers waited around, with no line. Four other people worked in customer service. Meanwhile there was a line out the door to get to the ATMs. People don’t need retail banks any more, though they may need ATMs. Or, at the very least, they don’t need them on every corner. Really, these are expensive billboards, and should be regulated as such.

The economics disagree with this, of course. The rent for a space on Broadway is worth it for the marginal access to some of the wealthiest residents of the US. But while that decision might make sense for each bank or Metro PCS or Starbucks that makes it, the sum is a neighborhood that begins to look like a very expensive strip mall. I’ll have to go and see the new high line, in the hope that it can restore my faith in urbanity.

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One Comment

  1. Posted 6/10/2009 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Banks and Phone shops… that’s interesting because they both make their money off of contracts, so there is much less direct involvement with the economy in which they exist. unless a few hundred people stop paying their verizon bill… that shop will always be able to pay, same with banks. Convenience stores which is as much as a duane reade is as not are risky, but… what guarantees drug stores? prescriptions, and many people have more than one. starbucks of course is closing stuff down, but… they have addiction on their side, so they are pretty stable too. In the end, I suspect that this is just making more clear the status of the economic depression. I’d love to wander through my neighborhood in queens and see what is closing up. some of those places have been there for 100 years.

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