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'It Has Become A Ghost Town': Broadway Storefront Vacancies Up More Than 75% Since 2017

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- At the heart of Manhattan is Broadway, lined with stores and restaurants.

But a new report shows a drastic increase in vacancies there.

Empty storefronts, "for lease" signs, roll cages down and posted letters announcing permanent closure --- that is the landscape residents take in as they walk up and down the street.

"Broadway - it has become a ghost town," said Dimitrios Katechis of Metro Diner.

A new survey of vacancies along the 244 blocks of Broadway found 335 street-level vacant storefronts, compared to 188 in 2017.

That's a 78% increase.

Staff at Metro Diner, along with neighboring businesses, fear it's just the beginning.

"It has been out of control with the rents to begin with, and this pandemic made it even worse for everybody," said Katechis.

"About two months ago, most of the businesses that couldn't handle it, they just didn't come - they closed," said Amazon Locksmith owner Sasi Yehudiel.

Amazon Locksmith is surrounded by closed businesses.

"Basically, all Manhattan is like this. It's very sad to see what's going on over here, very sad. Especially now," said Yehudiel.

There are 105 vacancies between 14th and 59th Streets. Those blocks include the heart of Midtown - Times Square - an area with businesses which rely on visitors to stay open.

But without tourism, many have been forced to close.

"It's depressing," Upper West Side resident Jack Berlin said. "It doesn't make for a very inviting place. So it would be great if landlords started negotiating with potential tenants with a more open mind and the new reality for retail."

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"It's just a sign of the time, because of the pandemic and the expenses of New York, the high rent and the changes. A lot of people are leaving," resident Tanyah Armbrister added. "At the end of the day, it's just deteriorating. The quality of life is going down."

Residents said the city needs to step in to address what they call a deteriorating Big Apple.

"The crime rate, the mental illness, the homelessness situation. And de Blasio, the mayor, is only one person. He can't be blamed for everything," Armbrister said. "But the crisis is just out of hand."

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer is behind the survey, which was first done three years ago to push a bill to assure vacancies are reported, and finding a follow-up necessary in the COVID-19 era,

"My impression, walking up and down, is not knowing. I mean, we don't know - are you closed permanently? We just see an awful lot of gates down," Brewer said.

She said there may be a legislative way to help.

"There is some hope in the City Council. We need to figure out, the big corporations often get a tax abatement, is that something we want to support for certain small businesses?" Brewer said. "If you rent to a small business, should you get some kind of a tax break? I know the city needs money too, so it's not easy. But we need to have a conversation about the small businesses and how to bring them back."

Brewer co-sponsored a bill last year to keep a database of empty storefronts, including rent and average lease duration. The results are expected to be released in February.

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