By Sasha Rafiy
Over the course of the pandemic, New York City’s economy suffered tremendously, with virtual offices and travel restrictions affecting many local businesses, restaurants, and even larger corporations. The typically bustling Big Apple was instead lined with shuttered storefronts, vacated restaurants, empty office buildings, and businesses nearing the brink of closure.
The city’s economic prosperity primarily relies on the affairs of office workers, business travelers, tourists, and service businesses. During the pandemic, many businesses saw their supply chains interrupted, demand for their products and services decline, shortages in supplies and inputs, and faced government-mandated closures. In 2020, a reported 47 percent of small businesses citywide closed, while revenue for those that remained open dropped nearly 60 percent.
As the pandemic progressed, New York suffered deep job losses and drastically high unemployment rates–more than any other big American city. The city had an 11.8 percent decline in jobs from February 2020 to April 2021, almost three times the loss on the national level. As a result, office-dependent neighborhoods like Grand Central and Midtown East suffered the most, with about 30% unoccupied storefronts reported in summer of 2021.
Even today, three years after the pandemic hit, blocks are still filled with vacated stores, often reading “retail space for lease” or “for rent.” The city’s prosperity is heavily dependent on patterns of work and travel which may be irreversibly altered. With a devastating lack of office workers, there are not enough customers to keep retailers up and running. As a result, many stores end up closing down because rents become untenable, landlords hold out, and then the city is left with storefronts that will sit vacant for years. However, for the first time in years, retailers are planning to open more stores than they are closing, as rent is cheap and vacant space is everywhere.
The next time you are out for a walk in your neighborhood, I encourage you to count how many vacant spaces you pass. You’d be surprised–even big chains are closing due to the pandemic.