New York City Enters ‘New Normal’ for Foot Traffic: Report

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Less foot traffic in New York City’s downtown areas may be the new normal, according to a report from retail data analytics firm Springboard.

Downtown foot traffic in New York City in September was 26.8 percent below the same month in 2019, before the pandemic, and less than the city saw in August 2022, according to the report. The slow recovery to shopping areas including Midtown, SoHo and Fort Greene, Brooklyn, comes even as employers have pushed workers to return to the office this fall.

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Roughly 49 percent of employees headed back to their desks in the first two weeks of September, but with the rest still laboring from home, the city’s shopping destinations should get accustomed to lower attendance during the workweek, according to Diane Wehrle, Springboard’s marketing and insights director. 

“The narrative that people will come back — I can’t see any evidence of that,” Wehrle said. “I’m in the camp of people [thinking that] this is the new normal and this is how people will opt to work.”

Weekday foot traffic in New York’s downtowns hasn’t drastically changed in the past five months, according to the report, which examined pedestrian data in shopping destinations in Manhattan and Brooklyn. This past May, the city saw 28.9 percent less foot traffic in downtown areas than in May of 2019 — just a slight difference from September’s figure.

At the same time, landlords have started asking for a little more cash from would-be retailers. Average asking rent in Manhattan’s retail corridors increased 2.2 percent in the third quarter compared with the previous quarter, according to data from brokerage CBRE.

Weekend shoppers might help local businesses pony up those higher rates. In September, foot traffic in New York City’s downtown areas reached 20.1 percent below the level seen in the same month in 2019, according to the report. Plus, heavy rainfall linked to Hurricane Ian may have only temporarily depressed consumer activity in New York City, which continues to lag behind the rest of the United States, said Wehrle. 

But the difference between working hours and weekends points to remote work as the culprit for low weekday foot traffic, Wehrle said. With staffers now accustomed to a hybrid model and young employees’ preference for flexibility, it’s unlikely that downtown businesses will see an uptick anytime soon, she said.

“Particularly for the younger generation, the Gen Z, the ability to do hybrid work or remote work is high on their agenda,” Wehrle said. “I think a lot of employers are bowing to that request. If they want to get talented individuals in their team, they have to recognize how people want to work. And that isn’t five days a week, eight hours a day in an office anymore. … That is what we’re calling a new normal.”

Celia Young can be reached at cyoung@commercialobserver.com.