These days, hardly a week goes by without a new report about struggling retailers and rising vacancies in Manhattan.
Average retail asking rents fell year over year in seven of the borough’s 12 main retail submarkets in the first quarter of 2016, according to Cushman & Wakefield. And several prime shopping districts now have availability rates well over 20 percent, while stretches on Bleecker Street and Broadway have become notorious for their empty storefronts.
These signs of trouble are coinciding with record spending by retail investors and the rise of the retail condo.
Investors have shelled out $25 billion on Manhattan retail properties since the beginning of 2011, according to data from Real Capital Analytics. And in recent years, buyers have been more willing to dig deeper into their wallets and accept higher per-square-foot prices — forcing them to find tenants willing to pay high rents to justify their purchases.
Since 2000, RCA’s database counts 24 Manhattan retail condo sales that were priced at $10,000 per square foot or more. All of them closed after July 2011 and 17 closed in 2014 and 2015.
“I don’t want to say it’s a bubble but it’s been constantly bid up for six years,” Lee & Associates Managing Principal Peter Braus told The Real Deal.
Consolo added that retail condo sales prices have gone into the “stratosphere” in recent years.
“It is clear that there were numbers that were far too aggressive and the market just couldn’t keep up,” she said.
While real estate insiders are reluctant to call it a retail bubble, many acknowledge that a correction is imminent.
Michael Weiser, president of commercial brokerage GFI Realty Services, said the best indicator of whether Manhattan’s retail market is weakening is vacancy.
Availability rates — which measure the amount of retail space that is vacant or will become available — rose in all but one of Manhattan’s main retail submarkets between the first quarters of 2015 and 2016, according to Cushman.
Among those neighborhoods, several stand out: On Fifth Avenue between 42nd and 49th streets, a staggering 31 percent of retail space was available for lease. Meanwhile, Soho clocked in with a 25 percent availability rate followed by Herald Square and the Meatpacking District (both at 22 percent), Times Square (20 percent) and Madison Avenue (17 percent).
Braus said that owners who paid a steep price for retail space are more reluctant to accept lower rents. “That’s one reason why you’re seeing a lot of vacancies in those neighborhoods,” he noted.As it happens, those six districts were also home to the bulk of the priciest Manhattan retail purchases in the last two and half years, accounting for 57 of the 73 sales priced at $100 million or more recorded by RCA since January 2014. (That excludes office properties with retail components.) They are also among the neighborhoods where asking rents saw the steepest rise over the past two years, the numbers from Cushman & Wakefield show.