Center for an Urban Future annual report finds most chain retailers struggling in city

In its 10th annual report analyzing chain stores, the Center for an Urban Future found some national retailers are losing links in the city.

The economic think tank released its analysis Thursday, which noted that the total number of chain store locations grew 1.8 percent over the past year, but the expansion was limited to a small number of retailers, mostly in the food and coffee industry.

Companies that compete with e-retailers, such as shoe and electronics shops, saw their footprint shrink more dramatically. In all, the report found one-fifth of all chains shuttered stores in the city over the past year. And the smallest share in a decade — one in seven chains — increased their presence in the city during that period, the report said.

“There’s more of a mixed picture for chains this year,” said Jonathan Bowles, executive director of the Center for an Urban Future. “If you were to look at just two retailers: MetroPCS and Dunkin’ Donuts, they added a total of 135 stores over the past year. But everyone else on our list, more than 290 other retailers, combined to lose 41 stores.”

The report reaffirms New Yorkers appreciation for caffeine. Dunkin’ Donuts and its 612 stores topped the center’s list of largest chains, defined as a national retailer with at least two locations in New York City and one location outside of the boroughs. The number of coffee chains grew 65 percent since the center’s initial report on chains came out in 2008.

With 1,261 locations across the city, fast-food restaurants are the most numerous type of national retailer in the city. But the number of fast-casual restaurants — 289 — has more than doubled over the past decade, with eateries like Chipotle and Chop’t adding outposts.

Mobile phone retailers have seen their storefronts soar, and in 2017 the sector collectively surpassed the number of clothing stores in the city. MetroPCS epitomized this trend, growing from seven locations in 2008 to 445 this year.

Traditional electronics businesses like Radio Shack, however, have seen their ranks shrink by more than half since 2008. The report also noted that office supply chains have lost a quarter of their locations and shoe retailers have decreased by 16 percent in that period.

Bowles said the city has lost more than 12,000 retail jobs over the past three years, which can be a pivotal entry point into the workforce for some New Yorkers.

“I’m not going to shed a tear for national chains that are closing stores in New York, but I do think that this is an important industry for New York,” he said. “But I’m hopeful that there will be a right-sizing — that the retail challenges will prompt building owners to lower rents and maybe there’s a silver lining for independent retailers in all this.”

Although Manhattan has the largest share — 37 percent — of the city’s chain stores, it counted a greater portion — 39 percent — of national retailers in 2012. The center said Brooklyn’s share of the chains has increased to 22 percent over the past five years.

The number of national retailers operating in the other boroughs has held relatively steady during that period, with Queens having about 23 percent of the sector; the Bronx, 12 percent, and Staten Island, 6 percent, the report said.

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