NEW YORK — It’s anything but business as usual on Fifth Avenue.
With police barricades blocking the entrance to Trump Tower at 725 Fifth Avenue between 56th Street and 57th Street, security for President-elect Donald J. Trump has put a crimp on shopping by restricting pedestrian traffic to neighboring stores.
The Secret Service is reportedly negotiating with the New York Police Department over whether to close Fifth Avenue to vehicular traffic when president-elect Trump is in town. “The NYPD is in regular discussions with the U.S. Secret Service regarding the ongoing security issues in New York City for President-elect Trump,” the organization said.
Tom Cusick, president of the Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District, said of closing part of Fifth Avenue to vehicular traffic, “I understand it’s an option. I don’t know if a decision has been made yet.”
Cusick said he’s been taking part in some negotiations with the Secret Service and NYPD and expects some decisions later this week or early next week. “There are discussions and phone calls back and forth continuously,” he said. “It’s not just limited to meetings.”
The security measures have “certainly had a negative impact on overall pedestrian traffic,” Cusick admitted. “There are two very high priorities from our view: the safety and security of the president-elect and giving our retailers the maximum access to their customers. It’s difficult to work out.”
Retail members of the BID “are bringing problems to our attention,” Cusick said, citing sand trucks, which have been parked along the thoroughfare during demonstrations. “There’s a concern that it will affect greater Fifth Avenue.”
Cusick estimated losses to retailers are already in the millions of dollars. If the level of accessibility to stores doesn’t improve, it could be in the tens of millions.
Tiffany & Co., whose main entrance on Fifth Avenue is closed, is using only its 57th Street entrance. “We’re just trying to spread the word that we are, in fact, open and operating,” a spokesman said. However, Tiffany was forced to cancel an event surrounding the unveiling of its holiday windows last week. “We planned for the event to take place outdoors, but it became an impossibility with the barricades in place,” he said, adding, “the holiday windows were installed over the weekend and the facade has been illuminated.”
Tiffany has been getting creative in servicing clients unable to reach the store. “We’re accommodating special deliveries, and there have been instances where we’re happy to run a package out to the street or make a transaction nearby if we need to,” said a Tiffany spokesman. “Customers can call if they have any difficulty getting to the store. During the protests, if there was an issue with getting access to the store, we sent people out to retrieve customers.”
The spokesman said that often it was a communication issue where customers simply needed to tell police officers that they were going to the store.
Other jewelers complained about the sparse foot traffic and the impact on sales.
When Gucci in 2006 signed a lease for 45,000 square feet at Trump Tower, the Italian fashion house couldn’t have predicted that its landlord Donald J. Trump would become the president-elect. The retailer — which sources say pays a rent of $25 million a year — is bearing the brunt of the fallout given its adjacency to Trump Tower.
Mayor Bill De Blasio recently discussed the issue of balancing the Secret Service’s need to ensure the president-elect’s safety with citizens going about their daily life. “I don’t think it’s an overwhelming challenge,” he said. “We’re talking about the next few months and then Donald Trump’s going to be living in the White House. In the meantime, the NYPD, working with the Secret Service, have created a very strong security plan. Yeah, there’ll be some disruption but look at the bright side — the holidays are coming anyway and Midtown is going to be messed up anyway. But I think people are going to manage. They’re going to make their adjustments.”
That may not be what retailers paying the highest rents in the world — up to $4,000 per square foot — want to hear.
“It’s a nightmare,” said Stephen Stephanou, a principal in Crown Retail Services. “It’s going to continue to be a nightmare, especially since [Trump] plans to spend a lot of time in New York.”
Assigning responsibility for the situation is difficult, he said. “This isn’t a landlord doing anything to violate the premises. It’s governmental acts. Does the person who leased the property have inherent rights to ingress and egress?”
Steven Soutendijk, executive managing director of Cushman & Wakefield, said, “I imagine all the retailers concerned will use any means that they can to mitigate their downside.” That, of course, depends on a retailer’s lease terms. “I assume leases weren’t negotiated with the possibility of Trump being elected. If access is prohibited because of the landlord, tenants have the right to exit the lease or get a reduction in rent.
“I doubt the Secret Service or NYPD will take steps to increase the perimeter beyond 56th Street,” Soutendijk said. “I think they’ll work thoughtfully.”
Soutendijk added that Fifth Avenue’s other attractions, such as Rockefeller Center and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, will continue to draw tourists who might venture farther north up the street. “Those things aren’t going away,” he said. “Things are moving so quickly. They didn’t think about how it would impact retailers.”
“Commerce has to continue,” former New York police chief Raymond Kelly said at an event at Bergdorf Goodman on Tuesday. “There has to be a balance, a trade-off. Right now I think [NYPD] is doing a little trial and error.”