From a string of restaurants on Hudson Streetto a beloved dry cleaner on West 11th and various boutiques in between, businesses are shuttering all around the West Village. In the fourth quarter of 2008, the neighborhood’s retail space had a 16.2 percent vacancy rate, the highest of any submarket in Manhattan. It’s easy to blame all these “For Rent” signs on the economy. But there are locals who say not so fast.
“It’s not the recession,” said Chris, the French-born owner of Bleecker Street frame shop L’Atelier, which opened in 2002 (he preferred not to give his last name). Chris instead points the finger at “these stores like Marc Jacobs”—the big-name brands,also including Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, and many others, that have pushed out the West Village’s mom-and-pop shops. Nusraty Afghan Imports, for instance, a Bleecker Street fixture for nearly 30 years, was recently displaced by the first-ever standalone store for Brooks Brothers line Black Fleece. When it came time for Nusraty to renew his lease, Chris said, “rent had jumped from $6,500 a month to $42,000.”
L’Atelier also used to neighbor a grocery shop (now an extinct breed on Bleecker Street) whose monthly rent was $15,000, according to Chris; British clothing label Reiss now occupies the space for $55,000. Meanwhile, yet another frozen yogurt shop, called Eskimix,just landed on Bleecker,across the street from L’Atelier. “I know people like frozen yogurt,” Chris said. “But it’s starting to feel like a mall here.”
A West Village resident of more than forty years echoed that sentiment. “There was a time when I felt too unsafe to go west of Hudson Street—now you can walk to the river and not be scared, but the stores you pass don’t have any character,” said the longtime local, who wished to remain anonymous.She lamented the recent loss of a decades-old hair salon on West 11th Street, which shut down when rent skyrocketed from $14,000 to $45,000 a month. Shealso shook her head about the Hudson Street Italian restaurant Valdino West—which once belonged to famed West Village property owner William Gottlieb—saying it shuttered in the hands of heirs who did not uphold Gottlieb’s traditionally modest rent fees. (Three Chinese restaurants near Valdino West closed within the same 8-month period.)
As for the fate of L’Atelier, Chris said, “I can’t afford to pay $55,000 a month. I can’t even afford $10,000.” He hopes he won’t have to leave Bleecker Street. But if that’s the only option when the lease comes up…well, he said with a shrug, “What can you do?”