Manhattan Retail Vacancies Soar

It used to be that taking a 10-minute walk around SoHo meant passing by at least a dozen upstart, trendy fashion retailers eager to sell you a $500 hoodie or $1,000 pair of sneakers.  But these days you're much more likely to see a whole bunch of this:

NYC Vacancies


Manhattan, generally thought to be more resistant to retail cycles than main street America due to its higher income residents and sheer population density, is proving that the combination of the brick-and-mortar retail rout (which we discussed in more depth here), stubbornly high rents and increasing competition from new neighborhoods is taking its toll on the Big Apple's commercial real estate market.  As the New York Times noted earlier today, the retail real estate market in Manhattan is behaving an awfully lot like the luxury condo market with vacancies rising and "foreign money taking a breather."

Once-packed streets are being hit by competition from emerging neighborhoods, and deep discounting from online retailers, according to community officials, landlords and brokers.


“Retailers are experiencing painful adjustments right now, there’s no doubt about it,” said Rafe Evans, a longtime broker with the firm Walker, Malloy and Company. He added that he had struggled to fill some Upper West Side buildings with tenants that last more than a few years.


“It’s like what’s going on with luxury condos — foreign money is taking a breather because of what’s happening with our politics,” said Charles Arnold, an agent seeking a tenant for a 2,200-square-foot store at 605 Madison Avenue, a brick building with gold filigree near East 58th Street. It is being listed at $1,200 a square foot annually, or $220,000 a month.


The space has been available for a year, after Mulberry, a British company that sells leather handbags, closed after a nine-year run, said Mr. Arnold, a managing member of the Misra Group of Companies. Two retail floors upstairs, which formerly housed a hair salon and fitness studio run by the celebrity stylist Julian Farel, are also empty.

And while landlords have attempted to keep rents artificially high for as long as possible, it seems that the excess supply of vacant store frontage is finally starting to take its toll.

Excess supply, of course, tends to soften prices. And the heart of Madison’s shopping district, from East 57th to East 77th Street, where boutiques feature jewelry, suits and stiletto boots, is not immune. In late February, the street had 37 vacancies or stores for rent.


As recently as 2016, annual retail rents averaged $1,800 a square foot, said Faith Hope Consolo, the chairwoman of the retail leasing division at Douglas Elliman Real Estate. Now the average is $1,100, she said.


“There is just too much space coming to the market at the same time, and owners are all vying for the same retailers,” Ms. Consolo said. She added that places like Hudson Yards, a neighborhood that barely existed a few years ago and that is still under development, had pulled tenants away.

As The Real Estate Board of New York recently noted, retails rents in Manhattan are down pretty much across the board with rents in trendy areas like SoHo off around 10% YoY and high-end store frontage on the Upper East Side down a staggering 24%. 

Increasing retail inventory and a slower retail sales environment in New York City have started to affect  ground floor asking rents in Manhattan’s most prominent retail corridors.  The Real Estate Board of New York’s (REBNY) Fall 2016 Manhattan Retail Report shows that average asking rents declined in 11 of the 17 retail corridors surveyed, which is a shift from Spring 2016 when availability was accumulating in some corridors, but the effect on asking rents was subdued.


Madison Avenue, between 57th and 72nd Streets, on the Eastside is one such corridor that is suffering from an increased availability of ground floor retail spaces.  As the corridor’s inventory level rose in Fall 2016, the average asking rent decreased eleven percent to $1,433 per square foot from $1,613 in Fall 2015.  Additionally, an increase in the availability for less expensive ground floor spaces in the corridor caused a 22 percent drop in the median asking rent to $1,350 from $1,728 per square foot last year.


Increased retail inventory has also hurt asking rents Downtown in SoHo, on Broadway between Houston and Broome Streets.  The average asking rent for ground floor space in this corridor fell nine percent to $755 per square foot from $831 last fall. 


Midtown South asking rents in Herald Square on West 34th Street, between Fifth and Seventh Avenues, fell eleven percent year-over-year from $836 to $745 per square foot of ground floor space.  This decline was caused by a combination of increased supply and supply being concentrated on the south side of the corridor.  Spaces on the north side of West 34th Street typically offer wider street frontage, while spaces on the south side are usually smaller and more limited in frontage.

NYC Rents


Meanwhile, Vacant New York created this helpful interactive map that highlights just how pervasive the retail vacancies are around the city. 

If commercial rents are too high for mom-and-pop shops, deep-pocketed national retailers also seem unable, or unwilling, to afford them. Consider the state of Bleecker Street in the West Village, near Seventh Avenue South, a decade-long fashion hub.


One afternoon last month, for-rent signs could be seen in front of more than a dozen spaces, including buildings once occupied by marquee fashion companies like Jimmy Choo (No. 407), Marc Jacobs (No.385) and Ralph Lauren (Nos.381 and 383).


“It’s a difficult time for all retailers,” said Dean Valentino, a managing director at ABS Partners Real Estate, which is listing 381 Bleecker for about $500 a square foot, or $50,000 a month.

NYC Vacancies


Seems the retail rents are just "too damn high."