"It's not Amazon, it's rent," says Jeremiah Moss, author of the website and book Vanishing New York. "Over the decades, small businesses weathered the New York of the 70s with it near-bankruptcy and high crime. Businesses could survive the internet, but they need a reasonable rent to do that."

Part of the problem is the changing make-up of New York landlords. Many are no longer mom-and-pop operations, but institutional investors and hedge funds that are unwilling to drop rents to match retail conditions. "They are running small businesses out of the city and replacing them with chain stores and temporary luxury businesses," says Moss.

In addition, he says, banks will devalue a property if it's occupied by a small business, and increase it for a chain store. "There's benefit to waiting for chain stores. If you are a hedge fund manager running a portfolio you leave it empty and take a write-off."


But there are glimmers of turn-around. Zendell has observed five deals in SoHo in the past month, indicating that landlords are becoming too nervous to sit around. "They helped to create the bubble, but now it's our market."

Renters insist landlords have an investment in the game, either through taking a performance-based interest in the tenant or some other mechanism. Retailers that signed 10-year leases at a high number per sq ft and then had to pay to get out of that lease are insisting on some participation.

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