Some observations over the last few weeks:
- El Paso, on Houston Street, was one of our favorite restaurants for many years. It was where my wife and I had discussed various ideas that led to me going into business for myself, and of course, we really liked the food. Last spring, we went there on a Friday afternoon to find the place closed up. I imagined that perhaps the owner had died or something. But then, earlier this month, my wife and I were eating in the Village, and one of the waiters at that restaurant had worked at El Paso. He told us that the landlord had substantially raised the rent, and the restaurant closed. After lunch, out of curiosity, we went back to the site. It looked exactly the same as when it had suddenly closed. There was no trace of a new tenant, and not even a ‘For Rent’ sign.
- Figaro was a sports bar near my office. It was a pleasant spot for a business lunch without going too far afield. At the end of 2013, on New Year’s Eve, I went there for the last time for lunch. “This is our last day,” the waiter told us. Their lease was not being renewed. There was a ‘For Rent’ sign in the window for a couple of months, and then, a while later, an announcement of a sushi restaurant opening last fall. But fall came and went, with no new place (even though I’d have preferred a sports bar). Last week, the door was left opened. The place was a wreck. The next day, new signs covered the plate glass windows, with the name of the building that the storefront belongs to. But no ‘for rent,’ no telephone number, nothing.
- Not far from my office, on Fifth Avenue, is a building that went up fairly recently. The storefront on the corner is a Chase bank, and the space next to it has been mostly empty for several years. It has held temporary stores for Halloween costumes and Christmas decorations, and was used for a week for some kind of new product event, but there has been no permanent tenant since the space was built.
I’ve come to the conclusion that the owners of commercial real estate seem to be sitting on their properties, holding out for top dollar. It seems counterproductive: an empty space not only gathers no revenue, it’s inherently an eyesore. Get enough of them in one place, and the area–even if it’s midtown Manhattan–starts to look as if it’s going down the tubes.
And then there’s the Radio Shack. It was a stone’s throw from my office; it saved my ass more times than I care to count as a spot to pick up a cable or a toggle switch or a soldering iron. It closed at the end of February. In fairness, it’s too soon to moan about yet another empty space. But even if the store doesn’t stay empty for very long, I’m sure that whatever replaces the Radio Shack will be nowhere near as useful.