If there's one thing New York City is not known for, it's wide open spaces. Quite the contrary -- those who live and work in the city are accustomed to tiny apartments, cramped subway cars, and small stores without a lot of elbow room. In the best of times, that lack of space can be aggravating. During the coronavirus pandemic, it can be downright dangerous.
Health experts have long agreed the coronavirus spreads far more easily in indoor environments than outdoors and maintaining six feet of physical distance is a crucial form of protection. But in New York City -- Manhattan in particular -- spreading out is easier said than done. That's hurt retailers tremendously.
Capacity restrictions and a struggling local economy have left many New York City retailers desperate for revenue. This applies to both retail chains and independent stores alike. And while an initial round of aid in the form of Paycheck Protection Program loans has helped some retailers stay afloat up to this point, many have also exhausted those funds by now.
As such, retailers will really need a lifeline going into the holiday season if they hope to survive the pandemic. Taking their wares to the streets may be the most effective solution for now.
Will sidewalk sales keep New York City retailers alive?
In late October, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that retail stores will be allowed to set up on sidewalks to draw in customers and boost sales. Now, that doesn't mean they can take over streets entirely; they'll be generally limited to sidewalk space and will need to allow for eight feet of unimpeded pedestrian traffic. But some New York City streets are already closed off to vehicular traffic, and on those streets, retailers will have even more room to spread out.
Other rules will apply as well. Retail stores that set up on sidewalks can use collapsible tents and umbrellas, but such items will need to be taken down on a daily basis. That could end up constituting a lot of extra work.
Still, the option to sell in the street is an important one heading into the holiday season, as retailers tend to derive 70% of their revenue during this time. By opening up sidewalks, de Blasio hopes to not only pump much-needed cash into retailers but also provide a safer shopping experience for customers.
New York City retailers have struggled across the board since the start of the pandemic, and with new quarantine mandates recently announced, tourism in New York could suffer during the holidays, leaving retailers in an even deeper hole. Selling on the sidewalks could help close the gap on that lack of revenue, to some degree, thereby preventing some shops from permanently closing their doors.
As it is, commercial landlords throughout New York City are worried about vacancies, and given the number of restaurant tenants that may soon seek to break or not renew leases, they can't afford another hit. Giving retailers more leeway could prevent a vacancy crisis and bring a bit of relief to a city that's suffered so much already.