By  on March 4, 2011

NEW YORK — The number of fashion-related jobs in the Garment District has been slipping for years, but in 2010, the industry accounted for only 22 percent of private sector employment in that zip code.

That diminishing figure was an eye-opener for Barbara Randall, executive director of the Fashion Center Business Improvement District, which commissioned an economic profile for the 15th consecutive year. “We still think of the district as fashion and we see all the signs of fashion. But 22 percent is a shocking number to me,” she said.

New York City’s fashion industry employment fell 7.3 percent to 47,348 for the first quarter of 2010, compared with the same period in 2009. The fashion industry’s manufacturing portion was 19,234 — a loss of 2,500 jobs. The wholesaling sector also dropped to 28,114, a loss of 1,224 jobs. As things stand, fashion industry employment represents a mere 1.6 percent of New York City’s private sector employment.

However, in keeping with employment trends throughout New York City, declines in the fashion center’s 10018 zip code were not as steep as they have been in recent years. From the first quarter of 2009 to the first quarter of 2010, total private sector employment in the district slipped 3 percent, which is slightly higher than the city’s average of 2.4 percent.

In terms of the area’s 1.57 million square feet of ground-floor retail space, the 14.6 percent vacancy rate is virtually unchanged. Nearly 90 percent of those available spaces are on side streets.

On the upside, a variety of creative services — architectural firms, graphic designers, fine arts and theaters — have relocated to the area and coexist nicely with the fashion industry, Randall said. “It’s not as though all of a sudden the tone on the street is Rockefeller Center and it’s disruptive for people to be there.”

Manufacturing in the neighborhood and in other parts of the city continues to decrease, a well-worn tale that many in the industry have learned to accept year after year. But Randall has wondered for a while how much lower it can go. “At some point, it has to stop. But it keeps going down,” she said. “I remember three years ago thinking, ‘OK, this is it.’”

An influx of hotels and the retail sales their guests generate provided some green shoots in the Fashion District, whose boundaries extend from 35th to 40th streets, west of Fifth and east of Ninth avenues. Portions of 35th and 40th Streets are excluded, and sections of 41st Street and the Port Authority Bus Terminal, which extends to 42nd Street are included.

Since the Hudson Yards’ rezoning went into effect in 2005, 25 hotels have been built or are in development — most of which are between Eighth and Ninth avenues, Randall said. The 2,300 hotel rooms turn over every 2.5 days, so the Fashion District’s demand for cafes, restaurants and stores is greater than ever. To try to keep those visitors coming back, there is a greater emphasis on improved security and sanitation, Randall said. The Fashion Center BID is using planters and better lighting to try to jazz up the neighborhood. And although the number of adult stores has decreased substantially, illegal oversize XXX signs could lead passersby to think otherwise, she said.

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