The West Village is Staging a Comeback

By Gordon Hughes

A couple of months ago I wrote a column about Broadway. I am an investor/producer and have been for the past 13 years. From my start on the Great White Way, July 2010, I have had a great deal of fun, travel and some financial success. The advent of Covid brought the mirth and merriment to a screeching halt. But as I mentioned in my Broadway article that halt is over and now the theatre district is really beginning to see a comeback.

RETAIL STORE OCCUPANCY IS ON THE UPSWING and shoppers are returning to Bleecker Street. Photo by Brian J. Pape.

Now Broadway, I believe, is the crown jewel of New York City. That said, I live in the West Village which I believe is another crown jewel of New York City. The West Village much like Broadway has suffered, really suffered, during the Covid epidemic. Like Broadway the West Village has had many ups and downs. Depending on how far back one goes, the changing demographics have been constant. Today is no different than at the turn of the last century. We won’t go into the original Indigenous peoples’ trails turning into today’s meandering streets. That’s for another column. When I mention to friends who live north of 14th Street that I live in the West Village ,to a person they say, “How lucky are you?” Well I am lucky. I have lived there to see the changes. The halo effect of Jack Reed, Sinclair Lewis et al is still live in the Village. Those early denizens of the Village brought about the advent of the coffee houses, cafes, bistros, restaurants and all those wonderful meeting places where artists, laborers, publishers, actors and all those creative types who lived in the environs of the Village to argue, fight and debate. Most of my time in the Village is spent between 7th Avenue and the Hudson River, 14th Street and Houston. This is where my views are generally developed. I say this because we have experienced many ups and downs in the 23 years I have lived here. I have seen the VW vans with peace signs replaced with Range Rovers. I have seen many a green grocery store replaced by real estate offices.
Rebel Records and Condomania replaced by upscale restaurants all in that time frame. So, much of the economic ups and downs of the Village are somewhat mirrored by the Theater District. One recession replaced after another.

Covid, yes Covid was another story. The streets of the Village went vacant for over a year. Stores were closed as well as many businesses. Renters fled—even owners like me left the city. It was a bleak time for our Village. I would drop in now and then to get a feel for what was happening. It was grim. More rats were on the streets than people. Crime was back. Those remaining in the Village were uncomfortable to say the least.

Like other neighborhoods in New York, homeless people seemed to be everywhere. Now there appears to be more than just an array of sunshine breaking through the gloom. On my latest visit to the Village I did some sleuthing. I spoke to landlords, store owners, big and small, restauranteurs, long time Village tenants and newcomers from varying economic degrees and here is what I found: first and perhaps most important is the uptick in retail rentals.

As I walked the streets in my briar patch of the Village it was very apparent that store fronts had filled up. All along 7th Avenue, West 4th, especially Bleecker, as well as Hudson, there were a great variety of new businesses. Some of those stores had been vacant since the economic downturn of 2008. Stores left for the trendy Meat Packing District and SoHo. Then Covid and it got even worse. Storefronts like the old Spotted Pig are now back in business. The corner of Perry and Bleecker is all occupied. Rents for those businesses are still far below 2019 but the spaces are filling up. That’s good for our Village. I do not have an exact percentage, but real estate agents tell me apartments are once again in demand. There is not the frenzy of 2019, but three tenants are fighting for an apartment, not nine. Rent rates are still below the high of 2019. As for sales of buildings and apartments, well it mirrors rentals. Sales are once again active but not at the volume or pricing of pre-Covid. So, what are the projections of the pundits I interviewed. They vary from optimistic to cautious. Some things to keep an eye on, crime, homeless, taxes, layoffs in Wall Street and the Tech industry. I was told that having more people on our streets does effect both crime and rats. So perhaps that’s the great takeaway.

The Village is back and back in a way it has always been; drama, friction, but most of all an iconic part of our city.