Office employees in Manhattan are resuming in-person work at a mere trickle, squeezing local businesses and clouding their prospects of survival amid struggles to recover from the COVID-19 fallout.
As of Sept. 18, only about 10 percent of Manhattan office workers had returned, according to recent figures from commercial real estate services firm CBRE Group, as reported by The Wall Street Journal and confirmed by the company’s director of communications in an emailed statement to The Epoch Times.
This is only marginally higher than in July, when a CBRE report found average daily building occupancy languished at less than 10 percent.
By comparison, a nationwide review of real-estate firm data by The Wall Street Journal found that, on average, around 25 percent of office workers have returned to their desks.
The consequences of Manhattan’s stunted commercial occupancy rates could be dire for local businesses that depend on foot traffic from nearby offices, such as restaurants.
Edison Castillo, manager of Café Metro, a quick-service restaurant near the MetLife building in Manhattan, which relies on office workers for business, told The Wall Street Journal that times are tough.
“Ninety percent of our revenue depends on office workers and another 10 [percent] depends on tourists,” Castillo said. “We have lost both ways. I used to have 55 employees between both morning and night shifts. Right now, we are down to six.”
New York City restaurants were set to resume indoor dining at 25 percent capacity on Sept. 30, helping lift their prospects for survival. Many restaurateurs, however, say this may be too little too late. Hundreds of protesters marched in New York’s Midtown Manhattan on Sept. 28 toward Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, calling for indoor dining to be raised to at least 50 percent capacity.
“The past six months, it’s been a lot of work, we’ve been just treading water here, trying to keep our heads afloat, trying to survive more than anything,” said Chris Page, operating partner of White Oak Tavern. “Two-thirds of restaurants are going to be going under, if they haven’t already. And we might be one of them if they don’t pass this 50 [percent]. We’re not going to make it to November. We probably have, maybe, four weeks left in us.”
Mark Fox, president of Fox Lifestyle Hospitality Group, said the pandemic forced him to slash staff from 130 down to 50. He called for the passage of the RESTAURANTS Act, a proposal that would provide a $120 billion relief fund for restaurant owners and New York City’s 167,000 restaurant workers.
“These people are in dire financial straits,” Fox said. “I see the anxiety and pain on their faces every day. They want to work. Ask any employee that shows up here today what they want to do. They want to go to work and they want to take care of their families.”
Low office occupancy rates in New York City have also affected the city’s tax base, with the city government projecting a $9 billion drop in sales tax and other revenue for its fiscal year that began on July 1.
“The economy of New York City, which was the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic at its onset, has been hit harder than the nation thus far,” wrote city Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, in recent comments on the city’s adopted budget for fiscal year 2021.
“In New York City, employment plunged by about 20 percent from February to April and grew by a smaller 3.4 percent from April to June,” he wrote. “The FY 2021 Adopted Budget reflects the ravaging of the City’s economy and tax revenues by the pandemic.”
According to the most recent tax revenue projections from the Independent Budget Office, a nonpartisan agency that assists New York City authorities in their budgeting process, expected tax collections for fiscal years 2020 and 2021 have, since January, been revised downwards by $8.5 billion, while the forecast for 2022 has dropped by nearly $5 billion.
Reuters contributed to this report.