Will the city that never sleeps ever wake up?
Not according to James Altucher, a best-selling author and former hedge-fund manager, who says that New York City is “dead forever” as its residents come to grips with the reality of the coronavirus pandemic and what it means for the fate of the Big Apple.
“I love NYC. When I first moved to NYC, it was a dream come true. Every corner was like a theater production happening right in front of me. So much personality, so many stories,” he wrote in a blog post explaining why his temporary relocation might become more permanent.
“ ‘I don’t benefit from saying any of this. I love NYC. I was born there. I’ve lived there forever. I STILL live there. I love everything about NYC. I want 2019 back. But this time is different.’ ”
Altucher isn’t alone, of course. The New York Times back in June asked the “agonizing” question: “Is New York City worth it anymore?” amid a mass exodus of an estimated 420,000 residents between March and May, when the coronavirus was really blowing up.
In July, there were a record 13,117 vacant apartments across Manhattan, according to a report by Douglas Elliman and Miller Samuel Real Estate Appraisers & Consultants. A year ago, that number was a 5,912. Also, new lease signings fell by about 23%, resulting in a drop in rental prices.
To be fair, New York may be feeling the most profound impact, but several cities have been hit hard. Check out the staggering stats on San Francisco, for example:
As for the Times story, along with the gloom, there was also a message of hope from diehards believing that New York’s history of “flight and resurgence” will repeat itself.
“These times of crisis, when things get tough in the city, it’s where I want to be, it’s where my neighbors are,” one local photographer told the paper. “I’ve been walking around and exploring, and the city is becoming even more fascinating during a time like this.”
But Altucher doesn’t see it that way. Will the city bounce back? “No. Not this time.” Will it remain the center of the financial universe? “Not this time.” New York has experienced worse? “Not it hasn’t.”
He pointed to several reasons as to why this time it’s different.
First, the center of the city is empty. Even though people are allowed to go back to work, they’re not, he said, citing the fact that the Time-Life building is almost a complete ghost town.
“Businesses have realized that they don’t need their employees at the office,” said Altucher, who is now in South Florida. “They’ve realized they are even more productive with everyone at home.”
Then there’s the culture, or lack thereof these days. He specifically mentioned Broadway and its plans to open some version of itself next year at the earliest.
“But is that true? We simply don’t know. And what does that mean? And will it have to be only 25% capacity?” Altucher said. “Broadway shows can’t survive with that! And will performers, writers, producers, investors, lenders, stagehands, landlords, etc. wait a year?”
What about the foodie scene?
“My favorite restaurant is closed for good. OK, let’s go to my second favorite. Closed for good. Third favorite, closed for good,” he wrote. “I thought the PPP was supposed to help. No? What about emergency relief? No. Stimulus checks? Unemployment? No and no. OK, my fourth favorite, or what about that place I always ordered delivery from? No and no.”
The data supports it. According to Yelp, 60% of restaurants around the U.S. have closed for good. Altucher puts that percentage much higher for New York City.
“What happens to all the employees who work at these restaurants? They are gone. They left New York City. Where did they go?” he wrote in his blog post. “I know a lot of people who went to Maine, Vermont, Tennessee, upstate, Indiana, etc. Back to live with their parents or live with friends or live cheaper. They are gone, and gone for good.”
He then went into the death of the commercial real estate market and how online learning will keep college students out of the city as two other contributing factors in the city’s demise.
“This time is different. You’re never supposed to say that but this time it’s true. If you believe this time is no different, that NYC is resilient, I hope you’re right,” he said. “I don’t benefit from saying any of this. I love NYC. I was born there. I’ve lived there forever. I STILL live there. I love everything about NYC. I want 2019 back. But this time is different.”