Without tourists, souvenir shops face an uncertain future

NEW YORK – Like many souvenir shops in New York City, Manhattan’s “Memories of New York” is full of T-shirts. They carry the logos of the New York Yankees and subway lines, images of the Brooklyn Bridge, and of course the familiar “I (Heart) NY” insignia which is a staple of town souvenir shops.

The store’s owner, Alper Tutus, said selling T-shirts is vital to his business. But since it reopened in August after closing in March due to the coronavirus closure of the city, has not sold a single.

“Right now, there are absolutely no sales, no one is buying,” said Tutus, 75, who opened the store in the Flatiron neighborhood 25 years ago.

Alper Tutus, the owner of a souvenir shop in Manhattan. Photo: Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet / The New York Times

Surrounded by New York-themed shot glasses, NYPD and NYC Fire Department caps, and a sea of ​​mugs, postcards and key chains, Tutus said he recently renewed his lease for $ 70,000 per month for his 557-square-meter store. But with no real income, he has had a hard time paying the rent.

For many tourists, no visit to New York is complete without a stop to pick up a T-shirt, hat, or other memorabilia that celebrates the bustling and thriving global destination that the city is (or was) before the pandemic led to travel restriction.

The rules decimated tourism in one of the most popular destinations in the country’s large cities and have caused a sharp setback in the increase of visitors to New York in recent years.

Although the city has slowly reopened and some workers have returned to their offices, tourists have still largely stayed away, meaning that no customers for the hundreds of souvenir shops throughout New York that remain evidently empty of customers.

On Monday, the city’s tourism promotion agency projected that it would take four years for the number of visitors to New York to recover to pre-pandemic levels. The international tourism will take even longer to recover.

Image of a souvenir shops in New York.  Photo: Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet / The New York Times.

Image of a souvenir shops in New York. Photo: Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet / The New York Times.

“It’s bad all over town, but other businesses like restaurants can still rely on local New Yorkers,” said Eicha Misfa, manager of the I Love NY store on Broadway and 38th Street, usually a very busy place near many theaters. .

But Broadway theaters, one of the main reasons many visitors come to New York, have been closed since March and will remain closed until at least May 30.

Our business depends on tourists“Misfa said.” We can’t survive without them. “

Or as a vendor at the park souvenir and gift shop in Manhattan put it: “How do you sell tourist gifts when there are no tourists?”

Another employee there, who didn’t want to give their names because they weren’t owners or managers, said sales were down 90%. The clerk was pessimistic that the store, just off Central Park South, could spend the holidays “unless a miracle happens“.

Downtown Manhattan has the highest concentration of souvenir shops in the city, whose soul is the many tourist attractions in the area, such as Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building and, above all, Times Square. All of them have seen few visitors since closing.

Today, souvenir shop employees say they can count daily sales on the fingers of one hand. They can be seen standing at store entrances, trying to attract passersby with discount prices.

At Playland Gifts (one of four souvenir shops in a single block of Seventh Avenue between 48th and 49th streets) a vendor, Nazmul Islam, 42, stood by a $ 7 shelf of masks with the inscription “NYC” and said he only had two clients that day.

“The only people here are New Yorkers and they won’t buy New York souvenirs“, said.

At another I Love NY gift shop on Broadway near 52nd Street, Akm Islam, a vendor, stood near the front door between shelves stacked with snowballs from the Manhattan skyline and the miniature Statue of the Freedoms

“I’ve had clients who have said, ‘I can’t believe this is Times Square‘”he said, pointing to the empty sidewalks.” Look out there. Times Square is crying. It’s so empty. “

In 2019, New York’s tourism industry marked its 10th consecutive year of growth, with the city receiving a record 67 million visitors. Before the pandemic hit, the city was projected to do at least as well this year, but now the city is expected to attract just 22 million visitors.

This summer, the New York City Comptroller’s Office estimated that the city lose at least $ 1.5 billion in tourism sales subject to tax for next year.

NYC & Co., the city’s tourism marketing agency, said tourism supports more than 400,000 jobs and accounts for nearly $ 7 billion in state and local taxes. The collapse of tourism has devastated hotels, restaurants, bars and many retail businesses.

“If there are not millions of tourists coming to the city each week, there is no way to sustain all those tourist shops, so I think many of them are going to close,” said Nathan Harkrader, CEO of CitySouvenirs.com and NYCwebstore. com, two souvenir shops that only work online.

The tourist boom allowed store owners to pay high rents by making large sales volumes of relatively cheap items due to the huge flow of visitors.

As the end of the year holidays approach, souvenir shops typically gear up for one of the busiest times of the year.

But with the virus emerging again and many travel restrictions still in place, there are little chance of much joy at parties.

“For many of them, that may have been their last chance to stay,” Harkrader said.

Islam, the Playland gift vendor, said souvenir shops “can only hope things change soon.”

Hope is all we have right now“.

© 2020 The New York Times

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