November 11th, 2011


Why NYC Is Losing Its Independent Retailers

You may already know that the cost of living in New York City is unreasonable. Residential rents and the price of real estate are astronomical. Last year, when I started looking for a place to buy, I was instantly priced out of the leafy brownstone Brooklyn neighborhood I'd rented in for nearly two decades. I couldn't find a one-bedroom apartment for less than half a million. Most were closer to three-quarters of a million. It's absurd. The housing bubble never really burst in New York City.

But what you may not know is that the rents are just as bad, and maybe even worse, for retailers. A small, independently owned pet supply store in my old neighborhood had to move to a new location because their rent was raised to a whopping $14,000. A month. Their new location? One block down and on the other side of the street. It's that crazy.

If you want to know why the independent retailer scene in New York City is dying and there's an American Apparel on every street corner, you need look no further than the absurdly high retail rents.

So when the petition started earlier this year to save St. Mark's Bookshop, an independent Lower East Side fixture for many years, from a rent hike to a mind-boggling $20,000 a month, which it couldn't afford, and which would result in the shop closing, I signed it without hesitation, along with more than 44,000 other people. To be honest, I didn't expect it to work. I've seen landlords let retail spaces sit empty for years rather than lower their rents. (Some time ago, Blockbuster got priced out of a space in my old neighborhood. Blockbuster, for crying out loud! The space stayed empty for another two years after they left--two years when the landlord could have been collecting a reasonable rent rather than no rent at all. Anyway, now it's a Union Market, and I'm sure they're paying up the wazoo.)

But the petition worked! I received an email this morning informing me that the landlord has finally agreed not to raise the rent to $20,000 a month. Hooray! So what will they be charging St. Mark's Bookshop per month instead to stay in the space?


Again, that's per month.

In New York City, this is considered a win. Anywhere else, it would be considered a joke. But the bookstore can stay now, and that was the point. I'm happy it's not being forced to close.

I just wonder what's going to happen when their rent is up for another increase. Something tells me the landlord won't be as reasonable the next time around. Because by then the economy will probably be healthier, and no doubt there will be an American Apparel branch itching to take over the space.