NEVER SLEEPS? NEW YORK HAS DOZED OFF

The ab­sence of tourists and wealthy shop­pers has taken the shine off the Big Ap­ple, writes Josie En­sor in New York

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Front Page -

Man­hat­tan’s Fifth Av­enue has long been one of the world’s most de­sir­able shop­ping des­ti­na­tions. “Mil­lion­aire’s Row” had come to be syn­ony­mous with New York City’s grow­ing pros­per­ity and global cache.

But to­day, a va­cated Bar­neys de­part­ment store sits empty; Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret and Kate Spade flag­ships are boarded up and high­end Ital­ian hand­bag maker Valentino has also de­cided to close its doors.

New York’s non-es­sen­tial busi­nesses were forced to shut up shop when the city locked down in March to con­tain the spread of coro­n­avirus, but many never opened back up. They had hoped to weather the storm but in a mat­ter of five months, the land­scape changed dra­mat­i­cally. Some now fear the dam­age done may be ir­repara­ble.

Gone are the tourists and wealthy res­i­dents who had pa­tro­n­ised the high-end stores. The for­mer have keenly avoided travel to the US, while the lat­ter have hun­kered down up­state and fur­ther afield.

“Ev­ery­thing that made New York so dis­tinc­tively New York has gone: its shop­ping, its Broad­way the­atres, its all-night cafes and late-night bars,” laments Man­hat­tan­ite and fash­ion buyer Natasha Field.

Re­tail­ers say the Big Ap­ple, which has seen one of the coun­try’s long­est and strictest shut­downs, has be­come the worst city in Amer­ica to do busi­ness. They re­port foot traf­fic at Man­hat­tan stores down 85pc from a year ago and do not see prospects im­prov­ing soon. Valentino, which is su­ing to get out of its lease on Fifth Av­enue, claimed in a re­cent court fil­ing that the lo­ca­tion was no longer work­able as a lux­ury des­ti­na­tion and the sit­u­a­tion was un­likely to change “even in a post-pan­demic New York City, should such a day ar­rive”.

“In the cur­rent so­cial and eco­nomic cli­mate, filled with Covid-19 re­lated re­stric­tions, so­cial dis­tanc­ing mea­sures, a lack of con­sumer con­fi­dence and a pre­vail­ing fear of pa­tro­n­is­ing in-per­son ‘non-es­sen­tial’ lux­ury bou­tiques” its fu­ture has be­come un­ten­able, Valentino’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives said.

Nearly 3,000 small busi­nesses have closed for good in the past four

‘Ev­ery­thing that made New York so dis­tinc­tive has gone: its shop­ping, its Broad­way the­atres, its all-night cafes’

months. The cen­tury-old New York

Daily News tabloid was re­cently forced to shut its news­room at Penn Plaza. Cit­ing the pan­demic, the com­pany said the pa­per would con­tinue to pub­lish but it was eval­u­at­ing “real es­tate needs”.

Restau­rants too have suf­fered as in­door din­ing re­mains some way off in New York, which has recorded more than 32,000 deaths. Some have fol­lowed cus­tomers out to the Long Is­land shores. Michael We­in­stein, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Ark Restau­rants, which was forced to close three of its five Man­hat­tan din­ers, said he would never open an­other restau­rant in New York. “There’s no rea­son to do busi­ness in New York,” We­in­stein said. “I can do the same vol­ume in Florida in the same square feet as I would have in New York, with my ex­penses be­ing much less.”

Part of the prob­lem is that fewer than 15pc of work­ers have re­turned to their of­fices. Sur­veys sug­gest many will con­tinue to work from home through to 2021.

En­tire blocks of the well-heeled Up­per East Side have been left vir­tu­ally empty. Many of its res­i­dents can­not jus­tify the steep city taxes – the high­est in the US – when they are re­ceiv­ing much less in re­turn.

Tom Harper, 32, moved out of the neigh­bour­hood to Ver­mont in May af­ter his part­ner lost a job as an usher in one of Broad­way’s the­atres and they could no longer af­ford their ex­or­bi­tant rent.

“We tried for a while at the be­gin­ning, un­able to bring our­selves to leave the place we had dreamed of liv­ing for so long,” he said.

“But when was the last time I went to a club, con­cert, great restau­rant? I asked my­self. What is New York with­out any of those things? Not much, quite frankly.”

Ac­cord­ing to mov­ing com­pany

United Van Lines, Harper is not alone. Marc Rogers, its chief ex­ec­u­tive, said it had helped re­lo­cate hun­dreds out of the city to the Hamp­tons, Hudson Val­ley, neighbouri­ng Con­necti­cut and Ver­mont in re­cent months.

Ac­cord­ing to Rogers, the ma­jor­ity – 60pc – be­long to higher-in­come brack­ets earn­ing more than $100,000 (£76,000).

Fig­ures re­leased this week by United Van Lines showed peo­ple flood­ing out of the Em­pire State dur­ing the pan­demic, as 67pc of all long-dis­tance moves were made by those leav­ing and only 33pc were by peo­ple mov­ing in.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port from New World Wealth and Web­ster Pa­cific, the com­bined wealth in the Big Ap­ple fell by $336bn in the 12 months end­ing June 30.

Tax col­lec­tions dropped 46pc in June, even while rev­enues gen­er­ated in other parts of the state re­cov­ered.

‘When was the last time I went to a club, con­cert, great restau­rant? What is New York with­out any of those things?’

Politi­cians have pro­posed a wealth tax tar­get­ing the city’s reg­is­tered 100 bil­lion­aires to help fill an enor­mous short­fall. How­ever, gover­nor An­drew Cuomo said he could not sup­port greater taxes on the ul­tra-wealthy as rich peo­ple al­ready have one foot out of New York City and he fears they will leave for good if their taxes go up.

Last month, he is­sued a plea for the su­per-rich to re­turn. “They are in their Hamp­tons homes, or Hudson Val­ley or Con­necti­cut. I talk to them lit­er­ally ev­ery day. I say, ‘when are you com­ing back? I’ll buy you a drink. I’ll cook’,” he said.

But the gover­nor has lit­tle more than that to of­fer to lure them back. Harper, a pub­lisher, said he may never re­turn to New York and if he ever does, it won’t be to Man­hat­tan: “I think the virus has just re­framed peo­ple’s re­la­tion­ship with the city. Maybe it will never be re­paired, and that’s not nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing.”

The nor­mally bustling Times Square stands nearly empty at the be­gin­ning of lock­down

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