New York City

Empty Stores Along NYC's Fifth Avenue Dressed for Holidays

What to Know

  • Some vacant stores along New York City’s luxury shopping corridor will be dressed for Christmas as if retailers never left
  • Wall Street Journal reports that merchants’ association installed nostalgic holiday window displays in four vacant stores along 5th Avenue
  • Jerome Barth of the Fifth Avenue Association says the group wants shoppers to see an uninterrupted stretch of holiday cheer

Some vacant stores along New York City’s luxury shopping corridor have been dressed for the holidays as if retailers like Tommy Hilfiger and Polo Ralph Lauren never left.

Over the last two years, several of Fifth Avenue's most famous flagship stores have closed their doors, leaving thousands of square feet in empty retail space along one of the most famous shopping stretches in the world.

That's why an association that represents merchants on the storied avenue pitched in to install displays in the empty stores' windows — so crowds on Black Friday (and throughout the holiday shopping season) didn't have to look at boarded up facades at places that used to house stores for Lord & Taylor, Henri Bendel and more.

Jerome Barth of the Fifth Avenue Association says the group wants shoppers strolling between Central Park and Rockefeller Center to see an uninterrupted stretch of holiday cheer. Tourists crowd the avenue every holiday season to see the elaborate decorations at stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Cartier.

One shopper on Fifth Avenue said it was sad to see the shops closed, blaming it on a "Walmart-Amazon effect."

But these stores shutting down doesn't necessarily mean that the businesses are hurting overall — in fact, it may be part of a smart trend. Certain companies may be realizing that paying for all that expansive, and expensive, square footage isn't necessary when they can connect with customers online.

"Landlords have been very resistant to lowering significantly their sales per square foot in terms of their expectations which is why you see so many stores empty," said Stacey Widlitz, president of a consulting firm that helps investors find good retail companies in which to invest. "Landlords need to get their heads around the fact that the smaller footprint is here to stay."

Some of the stores that still do have stores on Fifth Avenue have changed course as well, utilizing their space in different ways. In-store experiences like cocktail bars and restaurants have become more popular, as retailers try new things to keep potential buyers inside the store for longer.

And although there weren't many customers seen in the luxury retailers on Black Friday (for example, 26 shoppers went into the Georgia Armani flagship on Fifth Avenue in a 20-minute span in the afternoon, with 10 walking out and only one carrying a bag, indicating a purchase), that not a definitive bad sign, according to those in the industry.

"The luxury guys just don't have discounts. It's not something they do so you wouldn't see the frenetic shopping experience," said Widlitz.

Overall, New York City has seen an increase in vacant storefronts in recent years. The city comptroller’s office says the retail vacancy rate climbed to 5.8 percent in 2017 from 4 percent in 2007.

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