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Trump Tower security vexes Fifth Avenue retailers

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Latest MoneyWatch headlines 01:06

President-elect Donald Trump’s New York City home sits smack in the middle of one of the world’s premier shopping districts, and Fifth Avenue’s merchants are grumbling about how the tight security that restricts pedestrian traffic is making their lives tougher.

With Trump Tower turned into a fortress, sales plunged Wednesday, the day after Trump won the presidency, though they had come back to a degree by Friday, neighborhood retailers said in interviews. Sales at the Giorgio Armani Boutique, a block down from Trump’s digs, were “tragic” on Wednesday and “a bit better” on Friday, said an employee, who asked not to be named. He gestured at the clothes store’s sales floor, which had only one customer. “You have eyes to see,” he said.

The question is: How much will the security zone stretching along that part of Fifth make traversing it an ordeal? People are shuffling through narrow barricade-lined sidewalks past heavily armed men, an experience not conducive to window browsing. 

Protests against Trump 03:44

An admittedly unscientific check with a series of stores near Trump Tower found subdued activity in outlets ranging from jeweler Mikimoto to Louis Viutton, maker of luxury handbags and other goods. “We hope this all clears up,” said a salesperson at fashion house Prada, who termed Friday’s sales “so-so.” 

The level of security “has been a problem“ for retailers, said Tom Cusick, president of the Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District, a nonprofit group that fosters commercial activity in the area. The authorities told him they “will make some adjustments next week,” presumably to improve customer accessibility and appeal. 

Right now, the 58-story Trump Tower is surrounded by intense security, with dozens of police officers and federal agents posted at street level. There’s a checkpoint for people going into Trump Tower. 

At the beginning of the week, sanitation trucks filled with dirt were parked in a line outside the building’s front door, acting as makeshift blast shields, but they were gone by Friday, replaced by concrete barriers. Metal barricades now line both sides of Fifth Avenue, narrowing pedestrians’ passage. All of 56th Street, at the building’s southern end, is blocked off to traffic.

Man climbs Trump Tower 01:08

Not helping retail customer appeal is the controversial Trump’s presence as a magnet for protesters. On Wednesday, an estimated 10,000 of them marched outside Trump Tower, and more demonstrations are expected. The need for more security became obvious in August, when a climber using suction cups scaled the glass facade of the building, forcing police to pull him inside through a window.

In January, Trump and his family will move to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington, D.C., although they most likely will return to their long-time Fifth Avenue home from time to time.

The incoming president lives in a three-story penthouse at the top of Trump Tower, which is a mixture of high-end condominiums, offices and retailers. Even before Trump ran for president, the complex -- with its lobby’s abundance of pink marble and gold -- was a tourist attraction. The edifice was opened in 1983.

To be sure, the long-term outlook for Fifth Avenue stores is hardly dire. Thanks to the street’s legendary cachet, customers are usually happy to shop there, dropping major money for pricey goods.

That’s why big-time retailers like Tiffany (TIF) and Bergdorf Goodman pay top dollar for flagship locations along the famous thoroughfare, which has the most costly retail rents in the world. On Fifth Avenue between 49th and 60th Streets, retail rents average $3,213 a square foot, a steep ascent from $2,075 four years ago, figures from real estate service firm Cushman & Wakefield show.

New York City has benefited from a more than 50 percent increase in visitors since 2002, according to city figures. On Friday, Fifth Avenue was thronged with people, as usual. Once the holiday season arrives in two weeks, the crowds will grow even bigger. More than a few of the passers-by will open their wallets for Fifth Avenue merchants. But if they get near Trump Tower, it will be an even tighter squeeze to walk through.

Still, living in the Big Apple always has been an endurance contest. As New York Mayor Bill de Blasio put it: “There will be some disruption. Look at the bright side -- the holidays are coming anyway. Midtown is going to be all messed up anyway. I think people are going to manage.”

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