UPPER EAST SIDE — An "epidemic" of empty storefronts is plaguing the neighborhood — with nearly 150 vacant retail spaces clogging First, Second and Third avenues, a survey by mayoral candidate Sal Albanese found.
Albanese, who is running for mayor for a fourth time as an independent, and a couple of volunteers for his campaign surveyed a 114-block section of the Upper East Side — from 57th to 95th streets, along First, Second and Third avenues — and discovered 145 vacant shops.
"It’s an epidemic," Albanese, a former city councilman from Brooklyn, said on Thursday. "We had a lot of feedback from people complaining about that in their neighborhoods the local shoe repair shop or pizzeria went out. Two of my volunteers got out to survey the area and what we came up with is pretty dramatic."
Michael Eigen, owner of Premier Cru Wine Merchants on Madison Avenue at East 86th Street, said it's getting harder to hang on.
"With rents this high, you can’t have a bad month because there’s no margin for error," he said in a statement. "As rent continues to increase, it is simply too difficult for me to fight this fight anymore. I have been able to navigate New York small business for over 27 years but feel that, soon, I will no longer be able to continue because there is no seeming upside."
The Small Business Congress estimates that the city is losing roughly 1,000 small businesses per month, taking with it an average number of eight employees per business and about 8,000 local jobs every month.
Hal Shapiro, senior director of Winick Realty, said that while landlords are partially to blame for upping rents, many storefronts remain empty after eight years of Second Avenue Subway construction. The neighborhood is still catching up after the subway line's opening in January, he noted.
"It is a lot [of vacancies]," Shapiro said. "A lot of sidewalks were closed — there were obstructions on Second Avenue, and there was an increase in the flow of pedestrian and vehicular traffic. It was very disruptive."
He added that some landlords "priced themselves out," but now they're starting to "come back to reality and are more open to doing a deal," noting that the landlords of four or five properties Shapiro works with in the area have gotten more reasonable.
"They're becoming more creative, open and receptive to tenants' needs and wants," he said. "A lot of landlords want to make deals."
Albanese decided to do his own count after taking a cue from Manhattan Borough President's Office, which recently released a report about there being 188 vacant storefronts along Broadway in Manhattan. He also received complaints from friends and acquaintances about the lack of business in their neighborhoods, where his volunteers noticed a problem.
He said the vacancies clear sign that rents are sky-high and that big retail chains are pushing out mom-and-pop shops. That's why he said he's pushing for the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, which still needs to get Mayor Bill de Blasio's vote.
The proposed law would mandate that anyone with a commercial lease would have rights to a 10-year minimum lease for those in good standing with equal negotiating power as the landlord for new terms. It would also put an end to landlords passing on their property tax expenses, as well as rent gouging, Albanese explained.
"The act would go a long way toward mitigating this problem and keep folks in business and keep neighborhoods as attractive places to live in," he added.
"Soon, the City will be a town only of big chain stores, drugstores and banks," Albanese continued. "New York City is losing its local businesses and character, not to mention the jobs that go along with that; every empty storefront means jobs lost."