Walking around Broadway’s bustling shops and restaurants, it’s easy to momentarily forget about the economic crisis. But the “going out of business” banners looming over the two liquidating Circuit City stores on the Upper West Side are, quite literally, signs of the times. Earlier this month, the company announced that it would be going out of business. And by the end of March, the giant storefronts, on Broadway and West 67th Street and West 80th Street, will be empty.
“I hope this is the first and only [bankruptcy], and that everyone else will be able to hold the line,” said Monica Blum, president of the Lincoln Square Business Improvement District. “Obviously this is really a tough time, but it’s so important to be optimistic. Empty space is never a great thing, but this is still a very strong and lively neighborhood.”
It was just last February that the Center Circuit City signed a lease for 35,450 square feet of Lincoln Square real estate that was formerly Tower Records. The 80th and Broadway location, across the street from Zabar’s, has served the neighborhood for 10 years.
As the liquidation continues, residents are asking themselves who might step up to repurpose the giant electronic stores and how the vacancies will affect the neighborhood. Surprisingly, real estate experts say that there are retailers out there that are able to pay the hefty rents, which are upwards of $300 per square foot, or more than $750,000 per month.
“There’s a Filenes at 79th street that’s very successful,” said Barbara Adler, executive director of the Columbus Avenue Business Improvement District, who ventured to guess what store might fill the space once it’s empty. “I would not be surprised if some other very large retailer moved in. I would go so far as to say a discount clothing retailer.”
Mark Friedman, a broker with Halstead Property, thinks there’s a different kind of store the neighborhood needs.
“The only great sporting goods store in Manhattan is Paragon, down on 18th Street,” Friedman said. “With all the kids and families on the Upper West Side, a sporting goods store would be a home run.”
Right now, Adler said even though these are challenging times, the smaller businesses in her district are staying afloat, with very few vacancies and one of the vacancies recently rented.
Faith Hope Consolo, chairwoman of the retail leasing and sales division at Prudential Douglas Elliman, pointed out that both Circuit City storefronts are “dream locations,” adding that Circuit City closed because of its operation, not because of its location.
“Yes, it’s a loss, but it presents an opportunity for another great retailer to come to the neighborhood,” Consolo said.
But Rohit Patel, who works part-time at the newsstand across from the Lincoln Center Circuit City, said the liquidation and closing would “not be good” for his business, his head shaking in his Yankees cap as he remembered how much business slowed down after Tower Records closed.
“The rents are so high. More than 10,000 people lost their jobs,” Patel said. (In fact, more than 30,000 people will lose their jobs with the 567 Circuit City stores closing nationwide.) “I’m hoping for maybe a clothes store.”
Across the street from the 79th Street Circuit City location, Saul Zabar, president and co-owner of Zabar’s, said he is not sure how the closing of Circuit City will affect his business, which he reported has not yet suffered from the economic downturn.
“I don’t like to see a dark store, but they are across the street,” Zabar said. “It’s sad to see them go. They must have been in trouble for some time.”
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