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CityLab
Economy

Are Small Businesses Really Fleeing New York? This Tool Can Tell.

A first-of-its-kind law will give the city data on small businesses fleeing the city as retail rents skyrocket. But skeptics fear that won’t be enough.
Concerns about the ever-growing Manhattan streetscape of chain stores and "for rent" signs have led to a first-ever vacant storefront tracker.
Concerns about the ever-growing Manhattan streetscape of chain stores and "for rent" signs have led to a first-ever vacant storefront tracker.Spencer Platt/Getty Images

By now, it is well-known that New York City has a big vacancy problem.

A study released in May by the city’s own Department of Small Business Services (SBS) found that the average rate of empty storefronts citywide is 8.9 percent; other numbers indicate that at least 20 percent of spaces in Manhattan are vacant or about to be, with higher figures on particular avenues. In some parts of town, such as Greenwich Village or the Upper East Side, the hollowing-out of the retail landscape seems far more severe. Longtime institutions are being gobbled up by condos or chain outlets like Starbucks and Duane Reade drugstores. (One recent loss: Moishe’s Bake Shop on 2nd Avenue.) Vacancy now seems like a part of the cityscape itself, a fixture of New York’s curious existence as a booming “rich ghost town”: Walk down practically any traffic- and pedestrian-jammed commercial corridor and a “For Rent” sign awaits.