Editors and account managers at the Time & Life Building in Midtown Manhattan could once walk out through the modernist lobby and into a thriving ecosystem that existed in support of the offices above. They could shop for designer shirts or shoes, slide into a steakhouse corner booth for lunch and then return to their desks without ever crossing the street.

To approach this block today is like visiting a relative in the hospital. The building, rebranded a few years ago and renovated to fit 8,000 workers, now has just 500 a day showing up. The steakhouse dining rooms are dark.

On a sidewalk once lined with food carts, a lone hot-dog vendor stood one recent Friday on a corner below the building. His name is Ahmed Ahmed, and he said he used to sell 400 hot dogs a day. How many now? "Maybe 10."

Midtown Manhattan, the muscular power center of New York City for a century, faces an economic catastrophe, a cascade of loss upon loss that threatens to alter the very identity of the city's corporate base. The coronavirus's toll of lost professions, lost professionals and untold billions of lost income and tax revenue may take years to understand and resolve.

Other neighborhoods are rushing to reopen, while Midtown remains stuck in a purgatorial Phase Zero, its very purpose -- to bring as many human beings together as possible -- strangling most hope of a convincing comeback in the foreseeable future and offering a sign of what may lie in store for business districts across the country.

Upstairs, floors are mostly empty, as companies reassess their need for office space, raising serious questions about the future of the city's commercial real estate market. Downstairs, streets were lined with the creature comforts that made working in Midtown not only bearable, but even fun. They are vanishing, and with them, the men and women who fed, clothed, poured drinks for and drove the people in those tall buildings.


In jeopardy of extinction, at least in its known state, is the corporate office culture at large -- its corner suites and cubicles, water-cooler movie reviews, coffee breaks, office crushes, shoeshines, black cars. Happy hour, "Mad Men."

That show was set in part in the Time & Life Building, which lent a shorthand nod to corporate chic. Today, the story of the state of Midtown can largely be told with a close look at the block near Rockefeller Center where it has stood for more than 60 years.

Comments: Be the first to add a comment

add a comment | go to forum thread