Vacant New York: Mapping all of Manhattan’s empty storefronts

August 26, 2016

There’s definitely no shortage of Duane Reades, Starbucks, and banks lining Manhattan’s streets, but other than these national chains, it’s hard for small business owners to afford the city’s soaring commercial rents, and these mom-and-pops are currently lacking any protections from landlords. In some areas, this has created a chain store monopoly, while in others it’s left stretches of otherwise popular streets with large numbers of vacant storefronts. Programmer Justin Levinson is exploring the latter through a new map called Vacant New York, which provides a startling picture of Manhattan’s shuttered storefronts and its high-rent blight.


As the site explains, restaurant leases tend to last an average of ten years, with those for chains increasing to 20 years. So landlords want to get the highest possible rent from the start, and to do this they’ll often leave spaces vacant while they hold out for bigger, higher-paying tenants.

Vacant New York, NYC storefront vacancies
Vacancies in Soho

The other issue is that the rent is just too high. A small Lower East Side storefront will cost about $8,000 a month, while a restaurant space on Madison Avenue is asking a whopping $290,000. Oftentimes only huge chains can afford these five- and six-figure rents, but their slow negotiating pace leaves storefronts vacant. The site points to Soho as a prime example–“one of the most expensive shopping districts in the city is littered with vacancies.”

It should be noted that the city has no database for commercial vacancies. Levinson culled his data by visiting brokers’ websites and personally walking the streets and looking for shuttered, for-rent storefronts. In Manhattan, he located about 1,000 vacancies, but he’s open to corrections and additions from the public. He hopes his project will spur advocacy for reforms such as the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, a plan to help businesses negotiate lease renewals and reasonable rent increases.

Explore Vacant New York here >>


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  1. J

    Why blame the owners? there is no upside to having a vacant store and if the city council passes some new penalty on it, will they also take responsibility to seeing that these vacancies are filled? Shouldn’t the longest vacant store get the next available tenant?

    We are less than half the market rent and still are vacant. And NYC has no problem overtaxing us MORE than our total collected rent while the press unites with government to blame landlords.
    And the propaganda and character smearing starts first with the press to justify unfair legislation – that Rent Act of 2015 passed without any genuine protest and now it looks like some toxic penalty is going to be placed on vacant stores – salt on the wound.
    First it shows up innocuously some place like dnainfo or gothamist as it did yesterday regarding a hobbyist mapping vacant stores

    THEN today, the NYTImes has an article on disappearing storefronts.

    When the reality is that other than everyday necesseties and restaurants, retail is no match for the internet which can deliver to you next day and with “free” shipping if you sign up for Amazon Prime.
    It’s all about real estate control and targeting but it has the side effect of making my mother vulnerable to character assassination that flying monkeys and hyenas will claim is based on fact.
    So maybe Jared Kushner’s investments are not enough of a block to rent control stores – so be it. Because for every Chinatown Ice Cream’s cheap lease that this protects, who ELSE is being protected – think about it.
    I’m sure the designers of this new law will have no problem surviving it but it’s the small nobody owners who will have another tiger by the tail with the rent control of stores.

  2. J

    Nobody is holding out for these fantasy tenants that are controlled by brokers and assigned to landlords in their network. Look at how Cha Time shows up at Hotel De Point and the Pathmark mall on Farrington even if business would be better at a location like ours. Cha Time never responded to our inquiry.

    Brokers demand something like a year of rent as their commission with no guaranty that these tenants will remain for the entire term of the lease and no small owner can handle lititgation with these big companies who DO sue eg Toys R Us in Times Square.

    This article is propaganda that targets small owners.

    We haven’t turned down lower offers but we know those were fake expressions of interest where the prospective tenant then changes their mind or just vanishes without explanation. I’m sure there will be some story by their broker now but we don’t have a problem with taking a lower rent even though we know rents have gone up and people have no problem paying them. Coffee isn’t fifty cents anymore and the streets are PACKED with pedestrians like never before.