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The abandonment of New York City

Suddenly, the city that never sleeps is starting to feel eerily sleepy. Apartment vacancies are at a record high, more than 1,200 restaurants have closed, and Wall Street bigwigs are doing their jobs from Greenwich or the Hamptons.

Why it matters: New York City is a success story in beating back COVID-19, but many of its wealthiest and most successful residents have fled, some of them never to return.


Driving the news: While the city typically empties out in August, with well-heeled New Yorkers taking vacations or moving to their second homes, this time feels different:

  • So many people are fleeing the city permanently that overworked moving companies are "turning people away," per the NYT.
  • Early in the pandemic, people were trying to escape COVID-19. More recently, reasons include permanent work-from-anywhere arrangements, the prospect of safer in-person schools outside the city, and fear of looting and gun violence.

The impact: There are more than 13,000 empty apartments in Manhattan, and landlords are offering unheard-of discounts.

  • The MTA is destitute, and ridership is in a tailspin — despite the fact that subway cars are unnaturally gleaming.
  • In an echo of the 1970s, homelessness, violent crime and urban blight are on the rise.
  • The Empire State Building is suffering as tenants evacuate and tourists stay away.
  • Hamilton, Shmamilton: Broadway is shut down through at least January.

“There’s no reason to do business in New York,” Michael Weinstein of Ark Restaurants, which owns the famous Bryant Park Grill & Cafe, told the New York Times. “I can do the same volume in Florida in the same square feet as I would have in New York, with my expenses being much less."

  • While Bryant Park Grill & Cafe remains open (for outdoor dining only), Weinstein said he'd never open another restaurant in New York.
  • With tourists and office workers largely gone, Keith McNally has shuttered Augustine, the popular Financial District eatery, and Thomas Keller has closed TAK Room and Bouchon Bakery in Hudson Yards, the trendy new West Side neighborhood.

Where it stands: A throwdown between Mayor Bill De Blasio and the city's unions over New York's massive municipal budget deficit could make matters much worse.

  • De Blasio has appealed to Albany and Washington for relief, but so far is hearing, "Talk to the hand."
  • He's threatened to fire 22,000 city employees unless unions agree to trim $1 billion in labor costs.
  • Meanwhile, trash is piling up in city parks, the city's EMS union chief says that "people will die" if first responders are cut, and New York's teachers have threatened a sickout to protest De Blasio's plan to open schools on Sept. 10.

The former New Yorker in the White House has been notably unsympathetic.

  • "The crime and chaos in Democratic-run cities have gotten so bad that liberals are even getting out of Manhattan's Upper West Side," President Trump and HUD Secretary Ben Carson wrote in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

What to watch: With cold weather approaching, New Yorkers debate: Will things get even worse? And for how long?

Pessimists include James Altucher, the writer, former hedge funder, and comedy club owner, who argued in a LinkedIn post that "New York is dead forever."

  • "Businesses are remote and they aren't returning to the office," he wrote. "And it's a death spiral: the longer offices remain empty, the longer they will remain empty."

Optimists include Andrew Hacker, the Queens College professor, Upper West Sider, and author of a new Trump book called "Downfall," who tells Axios that the city will bounce back.

  • "What’s going to really save New York is immigrants," says Hacker, who has taught political science to many generations of them.
  • While lots of New Yorkers are leaving, "out there in Bangalore and Ukraine and Natal, there are people who want to be New Yorkers" who will gladly take their place, bringing their ambition and brainpower.
  • Hacker welcomes these voluntary New Yorkers: "I only want people in the city who want to be here."

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