Broadway is the ultimate barometer of New York City’s social, economic and cultural wellbeing, not just because of its fame around the world but because of its glorious span — it’s the only street to wind its way through the entire length of Manhattan.
The Post set out Thursday to measure the city’s health by walking all 13.4 miles of the storied thoroughfare, from the Harlem River in the north to Bowling Green in the south.
We found a staggering number of retail vacancies, as businesses faced with the harsh reality of a historic crime surge, economic devastation and staggering inflation, continue to shutter.
We also found some optimism.
“Broadway is New York itself,” waxed Del Acosta, 62, who enjoyed a mid-morning puff at Portes Cigars, near 214th Street in Inwood. “It’s going back to normal, thank God.”
But the new normal, others told us, is part of the problem.
“New York feels back, but back for the wrong reasons,” said Miguel Sanchez, 56, while getting his car buffed at Broadway Bridge Wash and Lube at 220th Street, the northernmost cross-street in Manhattan. “Too many potholes. Too much crime. Too much weed.”
Thousands of vacancies
The shocking number of empty storefronts are the most obvious sign of Broadway’s struggle for normalcy.
We counted more than 100 shuttered buildings and “for lease” signs spanning the entire length of Broadway, including entire empty blocks in trophy neighborhoods such as NoMad and Tribeca.
“Small business will be gone soon,” noted Alex Hassan, hosting a clearance sale at Barta Furniture, a 30-year-old business between 136th and 137th streets. “Businesses just can’t afford the rents.”
Retail availability rates on parts of Broadway were as high as 26 percent in the first quarter of 2022, according to a report issued by Cushman & Wakefield.
“They killed business after business during COVID. The only thing left are the box stores,” seen downtown resident and former city council candidate Jackie Toboroff, as she stood on a blighted block across from City Hall. She blamed COVID mismanagement by city leaders and BLM riots for decimating local businesses.
The city’s shoplifting crisis also continues to devastate small Broadway businesses.
Romantic Depot, an adult store at 139th Street, has resorted to public ridicule to wart the epidemic, posting a “Wall of Shame” with photos of perps busted stealing from “NY’s best lingerie store.”
The Green Mile(s)
The dank waft of weed has replaced roasted nuts and street-cart sausages as the signature aroma of Midtown Manhattan.
The stench of marijuana permeates the air almost the entire length of Broadway. It’s especially pungent from Columbus Circle south, where pot vendors jockey for position on the sidewalk with the rising number of pedestrians. Marijuana is now legal in New York, but rolling joints at home and selling them on the street is still against the law.
Police presence is minimal. The Post observed 16 officers patrolling Broadway the length of the island, half of them in Times Square. The stench of pot and sight of open-air illegal drug sales were everywhere.
A group of young men sat mounted on Citi Bikes just south of Times Square, constantly checking their phones, next to another group of men openly selling pot.
“We deliver sneakers,” smirked one of the young men perched on a Citibike.
One sidewalk pot peddler sold edibles, loose bud and pre-rolled joints – including giant $20 blunts encased in plastic tubes – from a folding table north of Times Square, proudly touting the quality of their products.
The “super rats” of Tribeca
Tribeca’s A-list celebrities have been replaced over the past two years by less glamorous residents: giant rats.
“No one lives here anymore. These are our neighbors. This, the super rats,” said Toboroff, while pointing to a giant plastic rat trap on the sidewalk beneath an obnoxious yellow “space for rent” sign in a window on a block of empty Broadway retail shops between Murray and Warren streets.
“Super rats” that “will survive nuclear war” exploded in Tribeca, she said, in the wake of outdoor dining shanties, an influx of homeless and the reduced frequency of trash pick-up across the city. Trendy Tribeca is now riddled with squalor.
“This is just squalor. It’s tragic. It’s really tragic,” said Toboroff. “This is liberal utopia.”
Crime and (gas price) punishment
Rain Moses stood on Broadway near the corner of Waverly Place in the East Village with a plastic tube of mace in her left hand, awaiting a bus home to Bay Ridge.
“The city is back and it’s dangerous. It’s off the hook,” said the woman. The life-long New Yorker believes the subways are unsafe for young women and said she was accosted by a homeless man on Broadway just days ago.
“I pay more just to take the express bus home,” she said. “It’s sad, especially all the homeless over by West 4th Street.”
The Post saw about 18 homeless people during the walk, several camped out in the entrances to empty Broadway storefronts.
Rising costs are walloping Big Apple residents, too.
Diesel fuel at a Shell Station on the corner of 174th Street was closing in on $8 per gallon on Thursday ($7.61). Regular fuel was $5.37, well above the nationwide average of $4.41 per gallon.
‘Crippled’ restaurant industry
Jesse Warner was a chef at Brooklyn boite Oxomoco, before pandemic lockdowns eviscerated restaurants, while crowded big box stores thrived.
“They really just crippled the industry. It was horrible. No assistance. All the new rules. I didn’t want to go back,” said Warner, who keeps his fingers in the food biz working at Broadway farmers market between 115th and 116th streets.
Twin Donuts at 218th Street, the northernmost food biz on Broadway, shuttered over the winter after selling coffee and pastry for 60 years.
“It’s sad when you see something like this,” said Inwood resident Mark Houle, 66, as he walked past the storefront with its empty donut racks inside. He blamed “bad kids” and “too much violence” for the struggles facing NYC businesses.
Yet hope for a better future for eateries has emerged on Broadway.
Hostess Monica Cabral greeted guests with her beaming smile from the open-air storefront of two-week-old vegan eatery Omakaseed at Plant Bar, between 29th and 30th streets.
Dagon opened at 91st Street and Broadway in February 2021, earning raves from the Post’s Steve Cuozzo as “the city’s best new restaurant to arise out of the pandemic.”
“We feel good about the future,” said Dagon general manager Alon Moskovitch.
Tom’s Restaurant, the Broadway diner at 114th street made famous by frequent appearances in “Seinfeld,” has slowly recovered.
“We’re not 100 percent back, but I feel good about where we are,” said Manager Mike Zoulis.
“It’s never gonna be the same, but it’s better than it was,” said Warner, the former chef, pitching locally grown produce outside the gates of Columbia. “You still feel that level of trepidation from people.”
The return of entertainment
Broadway signs indicate the city’s entertainment industry is storming back.
“We’ve been working every day. We got 84 shows right now, more than ever before,” said an IATSE Local 52 electrician, standing in line at a catering truck on the set of new Apple TV production “Improbable Valentine” at the corner of Isham Street in Inwood.
Keith Fasciani led a team of location scouts on a tour of United Palace, a 3,330-seat theater at 175th Street, touting a busy schedule of upcoming events, including “a lot of work from the Tribeca Film Festival arriving in June,” he said proudly.
Times Square and tourists
“Times Square is never normal. Normal is boring,” proclaimed Tom Harris, president of the Times Square Alliance, as the glittery Crossroads of the World emerged with afternoon street life. Pedestrians have returned in force, he said, topping 300,000 people per day and nearly matching the averages seen before the pandemic.
“It feels the same to me,” said Connie Bradley of Texas, a frequent NYC visitor making her first return trip since the pandemic.
Shaheen Bhardwaj, a Jersey City resident, welcomed her father Birdie Bhardwaj from India with a stop at the Charging Bull at Wall Street at the southern end of Broadway. It was Birdie’s first visit to the Big Apple.
“New York is the most fabulous city in the world,” he said after his day of sight-seeing, adding as he looked at his daughter, “This is my world right here.”
BROADWAY by the NUMBERS
$7.61 – price of a gallon of diesel at Shell Station on Broadway at 174th Street, most expensive gallon seen on Broadway
13.4 – north-south length of Manhattan, in miles. Broadway is the only road that extends the entire length of the island.
16 – number of cops the Post saw patrolling Broadway throughout the day.
18 – number of obviously homeless people seen on Broadway
$20 – price of a giant blunt sold by a pot peddler north of Times Square
100+ — number of empty storefronts seen on Broadway
260 – number of north-south blocks in Manhattan; 220 are numbered, there are approximately 40 blocks south of Houston Street
300 – Estimated number of people in line seeking food Thursday at the Washington Heights Food Pantry
37,000 – Steps it took to walk the entire length of Broadway
291,311 – Pedestrians in Times Square on May 9, 2019
318,793 – Pedestrians in Times Square on Monday, May 9, the most since the start of the pandemic
365,000 – Average number of Times Square pedestrians pre-pandemic (source: Times Square Alliance)