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More Empty Storefronts Plague Uptown Than Other Parts of City, Report Says

 The Manhattan Borough President released a report that showed almost a third of the empty storefronts along Broadway are based in Washington Heights and Inwood.
The Manhattan Borough President released a report that showed almost a third of the empty storefronts along Broadway are based in Washington Heights and Inwood.
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DNAinfo/Carolina Pichardo

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Of the hundreds of empty storefronts plaguing Broadway from Battery Park to Inwood, almost a third are located uptown, according to a report from the Manhattan Borough President's Office. 

There are 188 vacant street-level storefronts along Broadway, with 55 of those located north of 155th Street, according to a report by Gale Brewer's office released Monday.

Harlem ranked second with approximately 37 empty storefronts, the report found. The vacancy rate improved steadily the further south along Broadway the storefronts were located, Brewer's team found.

“Empty storefronts can sap the vitality from a neighborhood if they are not reoccupied quickly,” Brewer said in a statement. “The normal ‘invisible hand’ of capitalism — old businesses closing and new ones quickly replacing them — too often doesn’t seem to work in Manhattan. Almost every neighborhood seems to have a storefront that’s been vacant for years. It can be a mystery, but I’m interested in solving the mystery and rejuvenating our streetscapes.”

The report was conducted last month with the help of dozens of volunteers and interns. Brewer picked  Broadway because it encompasses a cross-section of Manhattan neighborhoods.

Richard Lewis, affordable housing advocate, said the report confirmed concerns by advocates like him, who have been hearing from businesses have been feeling the pressure for years now, he said.  

“There are too many empty storefronts. Too many vacant lots. There’s total disconnect regionally in terms of property taxes, affordable housing, taxes on vacant lots and the commercial rent, and the fact that the rent taxes are passed down to the property commercial renters,” said Lewis. “We need put it all together.”

Alan Goldenberg, attorney for Friedman LLP, a full-service accounting and tax firm, says with redevelopment rapidly increasing above 125th Street and new owners purchasing property to build up equity, rents are spiking as well, forcing retailers to relocate.

Goldenberg said that when new redevelopment begins to happen in a community, and new owners take over buildings, many break longtime leases in search of more lucrative new tenants, prompting vacancies as new owners hold out for higher paying tenants.

Brewer's study also noted this trend, stating that it was sometimes difficult for surveyors to determine which storefronts were vacant as "many were papered over, suggesting renovations or new tenants." There where others, according to the report, that appeared to be pop-up temporary stores rather than permanent tenants.  

“The rents in Manhattan are among the highest in the world,” said Goldenberg, adding that rents may hit a bubble at some point, forcing retailers and companies to relocate.

Brewer said in a statement that her data will be used as a “starting point in finding policy solutions to this problem.”