The policy organization Center for an Urban Future recently released its annual "State of the Chains" study, which showed that The Bronx experienced the highest growth of chain stores out of all five boroughs for the second year in a row.
Chain stores in the borough increased by 4.2 percent, jumping from 857 locations in 2015 to 893 locations in 2016, according to the report.
The Bronx was number one among the five boroughs last year as well with 3.3 percent growth, and it also topped the list in 2012 with 4.3 percent growth.
"For six years now, The Bronx has been seeing pretty regular increases in national retailers," said Jonathan Bowles, executive director of Center for an Urban Future, "and I think that there are probably still a lot of folks in The Bronx that would say the borough is under-retailed."
He attributed the steady increase to a growing recognition among national retailers "that the borough has come a long way, that throughout the borough, neighborhoods are safe, that there’s a lot of spending power."
However, the growth was largely concentrated in chain stores like Dunkin' Donuts — which added three locations in the borough this year — and Dollar Tree — which added 16 new locations. Higher end retailers such as Whole Foods, Armani Exchange and the Apple Store still do not have branches in the borough.
Additionally, the report looked at 303 chain stores overall and found that only 136 of them had locations in The Bronx, the lowest percentage out of all five boroughs.
Bowles stressed that there was nothing wrong with stores catering to low- and middle-income New Yorkers but suggested that anger in The Bronx over the pending departure of its only Barnes & Noble showed that residents would enjoy having a wider variety of retailers to choose from.
"I think a lot of Bronx residents want more of those shopping choices," he said. "There’s frustration that you have a nice national retailer that’s leaving."
Marlene Cintron, president of the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, maintained that the borough still had a robust retail market, noting that stores like Macy's and JCPenney have a strong presence, that the Barnes & Noble is expected to return and that borough politicians are encouraging Apple to open a Bronx location.
She celebrated the overall growth in chain stores throughout the borough, saying it was the result of businesses "knowing that we do have 1.4 million people who have a series of needs and certainly filling a vacuum that had been there for too many years."
Although new high end retail stores tend to bring with them fears about gentrification, a very contentious issue in the South Bronx, local environmental advocate Mychal Johnson said such concerns should not stop Bronxites from advocating for a greater variety of stores — especially if they will help bring higher wages to the borough.
"You can’t not want to create quality of life enhancements...for fear that that will bring people in that will price us out," he said. "There's no reason for this borough to be left behind."
Chain stores increased throughout the city by 1.2 percent this year, and Dunkin' Donuts remained the most common retailer by a wide margin with 596 stores, according to the report.
Bowles predicted that The Bronx in particular would continue to see chain store growth moving forward, noting that many retailers were now focusing more on outer boroughs and viewed Manhattan as a saturated market and that The Bronx specifically is still lagging behind Brooklyn and Queens.
"The Bronx has been one of the fastest growing parts of the city," he said, "and even though there may not be the same buying power as people in Manhattan, the sheer numbers create a market, create demand for all sorts of products and services."
"As that population growth continues, I think we'll see demand for a range of retailers," he continued. "I hope a lot of them will be independent retailers, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more chains taking a bet on The Bronx."