The Dimming of the City of Lights: Can a Global Pandemic Be the End to America's Flagship City

Updated: Mar 22

By Ernest Fernandez and Natalie Perez

On March 1st, 2020, the New York City we know, and love began to change. The first known case of COVID-19 was reported. Within two weeks the first death would have been reported, with the shining lights of Broadway shut down and the once densely packed streets flooding with cheerful tourists and residents alike now empty, bars closed down, and the center of American fashion retail, fifth avenue, was shut down as well. As of Aug. 2020, at least two million residents were thinking of leaving New York City, and hundreds of thousands filed an address change, effectively crashing the New York real estate market, following suit with its retail, tourism, and entertainment market. Some blame foreign powers. Others blame incompetency from Gov. Cuomo. And some look higher up and blame President Trump himself. In reality, the truth is more complicated.

Failure To React Amongst Crisis: At its peak in April, ambulance sirens in New York City could be heard non-stop, and there were reported cases of morgues being over capacity. Yet even at this point, Gov. Cuomo’s negligent behavior caused the city to be the epicenter of COVID-19 in the U.S. due to his failure to effectively close office and retail building in N.Y.C. When Cuomo finally did close all restaurants, stores, and offices, it was only due to the fact Pres. Trump sent out an executive order in the United States to do so. This order came late, as the New York City COVID-19 positivity rate had reached 60 percent, an all-time high in the U.S., making New York the epicenter for COVID-19. The aforementioned series of events is what led to the following…

Real Estate Market Crash: Experts are titling the situation in New York City an exodus, mostly due to the fact that nearly a million of NYC’s residents are looking to move out. This was mostly due to the fact that COVID-19’s American hotspot was in the city. At its peak in April, N,Y. state was reporting nearly 11,000 cases per day. According to the New York Post, most of the people leaving the city are millennials that were bound to leave the city at some point to start a family. Yes, these residents were going to leave, but they were going to leave at a slower rate. Most residents saw the spread of the virus as a wakeup call and decided to leave the city. The spike in empty homes resulted in a crash in New York City’s real estate market with most home values being reduced around 15 percent in value, and on N.Y.’s luxurious and renown Upper East Side, property value has reduced 30 percent.

Office Reopening: One of the more pressing reasons as to why New York City is completely fumbling it’s reopening process is due to the lack of N.Y.C. offices refusing to open, or workers refusing to come back. According to the New York Times, in July, when phase two of the reopening process occurred, which included reopening of offices, outdoor dining, and limited indoor shopping, around 300,000 people were predicted to return to New York offices. This number is yet to be confirmed, but what is confirmed is that from a tally from the employees of 60 prominent N.Y.C. companies with Manhattan offices, only 10 percent of employees said they would return, even though the city’s positivity rate was reduced to around 1 percent in Aug., compared to 60 percent in April.

Transit System: The lack of workers (and general reason to be up and about) is also directly damaging the MTA Since the last count in June, only around 985,000 people used the New York City Subway, which is a 83 percent decline from an average workday which sees around 5.5 million riders. The MTA requested a second round of $3.9 billion emergency funding from congress, only after asking $8.9 billion dollars in funding, as stated by NBC New York. The MTA in Aug. tried to gain back their riders by introducing better ventilation in subway cars, frequent sanitization of stations and cars, and a $50 fine to anyone not wearing a mask. It is still unknown if this will have any effect on the ridership decline.

NYC Fashion District: New York City has begun its reopening process, with restaurants and stores to reportedly open this week. Although, New York City’s renown fashion district is already falling apart. Three of 5th avenue’s more classic stores, Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s, and JCPenney are struggling to stay afloat in the pandemic. JCPenney is an exclusion, as they were already struggling financially before the pandemic, and filed for bankruptcy in the month of Aug. Saks Fifth Avenue had to close most of its flagship stores around the U.S. due to racking up around $50 million of debt due to unpaid rent as some sources report. Even though the overall fashion district in N.Y.C. is declining, Cuomo believes there’ll be more foot traffic in the city after the reopening starts. One thing stays true, if N.Y.C. fails to recover the fashion district, it will forever change the course of Western fashion.

Tourism: On the topic of tourism in Manhattan, it has been reduced to an absolute minimum. Plane ticket prices to JFK airport have been decimated by 94 percent in prices. Mostly due to the fact that major public attractions such as Times Square, the Empire State Building, the High Line, etc. have been closed to the public. Most experts believe that even if New York City does reopen it’s stores and attractions, it will ultimately fail due to the lack of foot traffic tourists normally provide.

Broadway District: The lack of tourism in New York City may not just be a downfall in its own, and it might be directly killing the cities renown Broadway district. All Broadway productions have been shut down since early March, and are set to reopen on Summer 2021. Although, some are skeptic if a nine month hiatus will be too much of a blow for the entertainment district. According to leading scientists on COVID-19 research Dr. Anthony Fauci, said that theaters will see a “gradual return to normal” in late 2020 or 2021. Yet there is a strong possibility this may not occur compared to the box office failure of Christopher Nolan’s latest film, Tenet. According to Variety magazine, the film had a budget of $205 million dollars, yet was only able to bring in $177.5 million dollars in the international box office. This flop was unprecedented as Hollywood executives believed that with the reopening of theaters after such a long period of time, theaters were bound to be filled by anxious people desperate for a night out, yet this proved not to be the case. Who’s to say this won’t occur to the Broadway district?

One may look at this with the lens of “this is just a hiccup, New York City has gone through worse.” Yes, they may have, but even as normalcy seems to creep back into our lives, it struggles to do so in the Big Apple. Through and through, the question remains, even if New York City is able to successfully reopen and not face a dramatic spike in COVID-19 cases, will residents return? Will offices renew their leases? Will tourists continue to visit? Will Broadway recover? Will New York City’s model subway system enter bankruptcy? Will the fashion district follow suit? Or is the city of lights forever a shadow of its past self?

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