New York after the Virus

Saturday, March 27, 2021 by Louie Bacaj

There is lots of talk that New York is sick, and more specifically, New York City is dead. New York City has big problems in the post coronavirus age, as the office space tumbles, companies institute work from home and start dumping leases to save money. There is no question that NYC is in trouble right now but dead? Let's find out.

In the late 1800s, rumors spread that the great American author, Mark Twain, who was referred to as the father of American literature, was sick. Those rumors kept swirling until many people started believing he was dead. Mark Twain was deeply in debt at the time and decided to visit London for a speaking tour to raise money so he could pay back his debtors. When a reporter found the author whose pen-name is Mark Twain and whose actual name is Samuel Clemens, he asked him what he had to say for himself?

To which Mark Twain replied:

"Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated."

Samuel Clemens is buried in New York. Although he filed for bankruptcy due to bad investments and was no longer required by law to pay his debtors, he ended up paying all the people he owed money to anyway—what a guy.

To understand whether NYC will survive, we must understand its culture and resiliency to risks, especially those unforeseen ones such as the coronavirus.

The gateway to America

Most people worldwide have heard of Ellis Island in New York; it is the gateway to the American dream for millions of immigrants. Today Ellis Island has been replaced by JFK Airport, the place where I started my American Journey. Ellis Island, New York City, has let in more than 20 million immigrants. All of whom have contributed to New York’s resistance to sickness and resilience. One of those immigrants is Bob Hope, who you may or may not have heard of, that came over to Ellis Island with a family of seven in March 1908.

Ellis Island

Bob went on to become a star on Broadway, a staple of our great city. Bob was also an actor, singer, dancer, athlete, and author. His career spanned nearly 80 years. Bob Hope appeared in more than 70 feature films, 54 of which he was the main star. In addition to hosting the Academy Awards show 19 times, more than any other host, he appeared in many stage productions and television roles and wrote 14 books. Bob Hope isn't the only famous person that came in through Ellis Island and came up in New York City; Albert Einstein did too, and so did so many other great people and minds that would go on to transform America.

Hope stands out because his death was announced on the U.S. Congress floor, and his commitment to entertaining military personnel led to him being declared the "first and only honorary veteran of the U.S. armed forces" in 1998. The problem with all that is that Bob Hope wasn't dead, the associated press accidentally sent out a pre-written obituary, he went on to live for many more years.

So much more than one industry

New York City is so much more than just the world's financial capital, with Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange. It is also the world's marketing capital, with some of the best advertising agencies in the globe lined up on Madison Avenue where Mad Men drama unfolds. New York has more sports teams than any other state in the union. It is also a close second on many different industries like entertainment with the ABC, NBC, MTV, studios near 42nd street, among many others. NYC is second only to Silicon Valley in the world in technology Startups and innovation.

Besides all of that, it is for sure the most culturally diverse city in the world, with over 800 languages spoken—with food from over 100 countries.

Our city has cultures built into it like layers on rock formations across the various ages, first the Irish, then the Italians, and most recently the Albanians from generation after generation of immigrants that came to its shores and added to it.

Layers of rock laid down over the ages.

Then there are the museums, the art, the countless things to do and see. It is impossible to find more entertainment and culture infusion per square inch in any other spot on the planet.

The problem with betting against NYC

In the song Welcome to New York City, Jay Z, and Camron remind us:

"Welcome to the Empire State, home of the World Trade
Birthplace of Michael Jordan
Home of Biggie Smalls"

And more importantly, they also tell us:

"It's the home of 9/11, the place of the lost Towers
We still banging, we never lost power."

Growing up in the Bronx, NYC, I still remember where I was when the first tower fell; everyone from NYC will tell you they can remember almost everything about that day. The first few months after the towers fell, downtown Manhattan was like a war zone. Anyone who worked anywhere near those towers no longer wanted to go into those offices; some people, even if they worked uptown, didn't want to go in. Some out of fear, others out of sadness. Commercial real estate in Manhattan tanked, but in downtown Manhattan, the bottom fell out; they couldn't pay you to buy it.

Something strange started happening a couple of years after; even though the offices did get shut down, companies did not renew their leases, but more towers started going up. Perhaps, more importantly, those offices down there started getting repurposed. Downtown Manhattan got converted to beautiful residential real estate, and today it is home to some of the most expensive Condos, and Coop's money can buy.

Why did this happen? Well, because the city is a beautiful, entertaining, lively, and ambitious place. Full of cultural diversity, shows, museums, and the most wonderful food in the world, who wouldn't want to live there?

Speaking of food, my uncles both work in two of the best restaurants in the city. One works at La Grenouille, which probably has the best French food anywhere in the world outside of Paris, France. The other works in a great Italian Restaurant named Amaranth; needless to say, these restaurants are not doing well in the coronavirus era.

My uncles, who are both waiters, had a tough time at it, both unsure if they'll ever be back to making the kind of money they used to.

At the Amaranth, a regular customer, who comes from Texas regularly to visit NYC, struck a conversation with my uncle. She asked him how they are doing? To which he responded frankly, "I am not sure if we are going to make it." She was very sad to hear that, so much so that she pulled out a checkbook and wrote a 10,000 dollar check after she finished her espresso and left it as a tip for him and the crew there. She told him as she left, "we need you to make it."

If America is the modern version of the Roman Empire, and New York is the Empire State, then New York City is Rome. Like many large cities across America, it is the lifeblood of many surrounding areas. New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut's most prominent neighborhoods are all close to NYC. There is a reason for this, the high-paying jobs out of NYC and the economic activity there feed much more than just N.Y. State. It's not just these states that need NYC to survive either; America needs this city to survive. After all, what would the Roman Empire be if Rome crumbled?

In Conclusion

In a recent, timely article, by the Wall Street Journal titled "Covid-19 Clobbered Manhattan. Lower Rents Could Seed Recovery." We are told that New York City's comeback is already being staged by lower rents. More towers are going up and more parts of the city are being developed than ever, “Lower rents, particularly if they are sustained, will be terrific for street level retail and restaurants.”

Even if commercial real estate plummets and dies off and we never work from an office again, New York City, New York, the city so nice they had to name it twice, is far from dead, and I'm here to tell you the rumors about our city are greatly exaggerated.

"I wanna wake up in a city that doesn't sleep
And find I'm king of the hill, top of the heap

If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere
It's up to you, New York, New York" -Frank Sinatra