It was an old story, with a happy surprise ending. The landlord for McNally Jackson bookstore in downtown Manhanttan wanted “an enormous amount of rent,” says Sarah McNally. So McNally began looking for space elsewhere.
The happy ending was that the owner of the popular bookstore says she now has a contract on one space and has also identified another as a backup. She’s not announcing the final destination yet but it will be in Manhattan close to the original store, she says.
But plenty of bookstore patrons were upset by the early appearance of leasing banners, first reported by Bowery Boogie.
“What is it with the internet,” says McNally, surprised how quickly the news spread. People have asked her whether everything’s OK, not yet knowing that the store is set to safely move.
The fear is fairly rational. It’s a strange and turbulent time for retailers in New York City, which has resulted in a surprising number of vacant storefronts even in the busiest parts of the boroughs.
A map that tried to visualize some of the vacancies in Manhattan pictured some 1000 properties back in 2016. The mapmaker, data guy Justin Levinson, is working on an update and says he’s finding even more vacancies.
Where do the vacancies come from? It’s certainly a difficult time in retail, with more purchases being made online rather than in brick-and-mortar stores. That’s particularly dangerous for bookstores. “What is it with the internet” for sure.
Some watchers of “high-rent blight” point to rents that rose quickly over time in trendy areas, rents that can’t be afforded by new and old stores alike.
Policy makers have looked at various fixes. Last year, the City Council changed the Commercial Rent Tax to give some business owners a break.
The council also will hold hearings later this month on the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, which would change the way commercial tenants and landlords negotiate leases to add more “fairness” for the tenant, says Manhattan Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez, a Democrat.
The powerful Real Estate Board of New York and its landlord constituency, for its part, opposes that act as overeach and pushes back on the idea of a vacancy crisis, citing figures that show a drop in commercial rents. Just the flux of the industry as usual.
Most people can agree on the flux at least, if not what to do about it. McNally says that having to move would have been a disaster a few years ago when rents were higher.
Then there’s the constant battle to get patrons inside your shop to part with their money. Why not go on Amazon? Different stores are adapting in different ways — for McNally Jackson, it’s a deep and carefully chosen inventory of books and periodicals.
Others are failing to keep up with competition, leaving holes on previously bustling streets.