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The Trouble With Bleecker Street

January 10, 2008

It's going on four years now since my first entry in this infrequent list of blogs. The story then was the closing after many years of Zito's Bakery. Here's the problem. Nothing has moved in to take its place.

Landlords are always squeezing every penny the market will bear out of their commercial spaces. You walk down the street and the shoe repair shop you frequented is now a dress boutique. You have to get on the subway to get your shoes fixed because sales of chic clothes can pay the rent in Greenwich Village and resoles can't. Nothing new about that; useful shops that serve the neighborhood are always giving way to businesses that can make some of their money from the many tourists who are flocking to New York, especially the ones who are spending pounds and euros and scooping up bargains in dollar-priced goods. High end boutiques including Cynthia Rowley and Ralph Lauren have been making their way from west to east on Bleecker Street for a few years now, and are posed to jump to our side of Seventh Avenue.

The problem on Bleecker Street east of Seventh is a little different. It's not that storefronts are filling up with dress shops and men's boutiques and stores selling expensive shoes. It's that they're not filling up at all. Landlords apparently are choosing to keep them vacant. The Zito's space is a prime example.

The rumor on the street is this. The space was rented to a company that sold homemake chocolates. That would have been a nice addition to a section of Bleecker Street that is essentially a food mall -- Amy's Bread, the Lobster Place, Murray's Cheese, Faicco's Pork Store, the wonderful Aphrodesia herb and spice store are all right across the street. But the chocolate shop never opened.

Why not? The rumor continues: the company that sold homemade chocolates was bought by Hershey. And Hershey decided not to open the store on Bleecker Street. Presumably, the lease remains in force. Obviously, Hershey can well afford to pay thousands of dollars a month for a space that gives it no return (expect for the tax deduction). The landlord has no incentive to rent the space to someone else. So the space sits vacant, looking tacky, abandoned, down at heel. Some time back, the window was broken and replaced with an ugly piece of fibreboard. Again, the landlord has no incentive to replace the window. The rent rolls in regardless.

Meanwhile, the residents and neighbors of Bleecker Street can only hope it was a five-year lease and not a longer one. We're lucky to be spared the tattoo parlors and sex shops lined up around the corner on Sixth Avenue. But I'd like to see a light flicker once again in the Zito's Bakery storefront.

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