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The Sorrows of a Fading City: What’s Next for NYC’s Commercial Spaces?

With Dean and DeLuca, Barneys and Lincoln Plaza all gone, disappearing or downsizing, NYC faces inevitable change

Photo by Laura Wagner.

As of several holiday seasons ago, I became a computer priestess, joining the enormous flock of users. The delights were endless, and the simplicity divine. I knocked off my entire children’s list of gifts by activating an Amazon account and linking it to my Citibank. It’s better than shopping for sales, and the process is made simple. Could I be contributing to the demise of retail establishments in NYC?

Photo by Laura Wagner.

A recent dinner that I was having at my apartment for a few friends prompted a visit to Dean and Deluca on Madison Avenue.  Delicacies that I did not have time to prepare seemed a good reason to go there.  As I approached the store, I noticed a group of people gathered, seemingly in shock.  Sadly, my first thought was another maniac with a gun. What I was unprepared for was to learn of the closing of this food emporium. There was no forewarning, and no explanation on the door. And apparently, the original Dean and Deluca, a Soho landmark, is only months away from the same fate.

Just days before I had read about Barneys’ dire financial forecast and its need to close many of its branches, leaving the Madison Avenue flagship store as the sole survivor. “What next?” I thought.

Both of these institutions seem to be in a financial free-fall.  Dean and Deluca, now owned by a Thai real estate firm, is saddled with debt so deep that making payments to vendors and employees has become nearly impossible, as reported in the NYTimes.

One can understand the deaths of even venerable New York institutions such as these when many are now shopping online and enjoying the convenience that comes with it.  I am a person of low-tech skills, and resistant to innovation. Blame it on many factors, but aversion to technology is high on the list.  However, as of several holiday seasons ago, I became a computer priestess, joining the enormous flock of users. The delights were endless, and the simplicity divine. I knocked off my entire children’s list of gifts by activating an Amazon account and linking it to my Citibank.  Thank you, Awards program, accrued from monthly purchases!  It’s better than shopping for sales, and the process is made simple: make a selection, follow the payment instruction and enjoy the delight when the screen informs you that your balance is zero.

I should mention that I adore bargains. Shopping online has almost replaced my need to browse Bloomie’s, Barneys & Bergdorf’s; the 3B’s to fashionistas worldwide. Yet, sadly, I have noticed in the last several years that Bergdorf Goodman has become an unrecognizable specialty store catering to a new and different market—no longer mine.  But as we are learning daily, nothing lasts forever.

What’s more, it seems that these stores are sharing the same fate as several of NYC’s most beloved movie theatres. Lincoln Plaza’s demise was news that was mourned by all who felt that the theatre was a small respite from the travails of city life.  We lamented its fate and found that discussing it with like-minded New Yorkers was cathartic. It was news that was hard to avoid– most specifically on the city’s public transportation system—bemoaned by all who loved the first-rate variety of films.  In fact, shortly after it was announced, a friend in Torino, Italy, mentioned that while having his afternoon espresso, two women sitting at the next table were discussing the closing of Lincoln Plaza. And now, it is widely rumored that the Paris Theatre will be next. Two of NYC’s most treasured theatres that feature the best selection of newly released, predominantly foreign films, are following the same tragic end.

Photo by Laura Wagner.

What is causing this upheaval? One reason surely is the high cost of rent. It was reported that Barney’s 275,000 square foot store was hit with an annual lease increase soaring from 16M to 30M. That meant that in order to retain one of the chicest addresses in Manhattan, Madison Avenue at 61st Street, their monthly rent had gone up to 2.5M.

Although the high cost of rent may be the main culprit for all commercial sites, for theatres it may also be the price of a ticket. When added to the cost of a dinner, an evening of movie and dinner has become a splurge that many can no longer afford.  What’s more, like the pleasures of online shopping, the added convenience of streaming Netflix for up-to-the minute features, a night at the cinema will soon become obsolete.

Our city seems to be fading before our eyes, empty storefronts line Madison Avenue, as well as many other streets throughout the city.  We all know that change is inevitable and unavoidable, and that similar transformations are occurring in other metropolitan areas, but at this point, we are left to wonder what will replace these well-worn but treasured institutions? Thankfully, in a city as rich and varied as NYC there will always be a multitude of other options for entertainment and self-development.

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