Robert Zemeckis’ classic 1985 film Back To The Future is the story of Marty McFly, who must return to the 1950s to ensure that his parents get together so that he is not erased from existence. Now a staple of classic American cinema, the movie is a delight and (pardon the pun) timeless.
Today, New York City is experiencing its own Back To The Future moment. Only this is no movie. But if it were, it would be a horror picture.
I was a kid back then and growing up on the West Coast, but I recall what New York City was like in the 1970s and 80s. Here’s a highlight reel. In 1975, the city went broke. In 1977, the power went out for 25 hours. A million people left NYC from 1970 to 1980. 40,000 prostitutes, mostly girls under the age of 21, plied their trade in the Big Apple. Adult themed stores polluted Times Square. Crack and heroin infested the city. Street crime was literally out of control. By 1990, the number of annual homicides reached 2,245.
More not so fun facts. When NYC went broke in 1975, the police force shrank 34%. Serious crime then increased by 40% and even more in the following years. Think “Defund The Police” is a new idea or hasn’t been tried before? 1600 stores were looted. Sound familiar?
In 1993 Rudy Giuliani became Mayor Giuliani. He restored law and order by implementing his “broken windows theory,” which, how shocking right, argues that social disorder, despair, loitering, and open drug use attracts serious violent crime and criminals. New York City then prospered for 20 plus years. It became one of the safest big cities in America (in the world even).
Flash forward to 2020. Possibly the worst mayor of any major US city of all time, an idiot to the extreme, Bill de Blasio, and an equally incompetent governor, Andrew Cuomo, are sending the Big Apple straight back to hell.
I love New York City. I have never lived there, but over the past few years (2013-2018), I spent considerable time in Gotham on business. Great people, excellent place, magnificent. Perfect? No, but what city is perfect? Prosperous and safe on the whole. That statement could have been made only 6 months ago. Let that sink in for a second. In February 2020, NYC was humming right along, people were employed and, despite having a complete fool for a mayor, the city was on solid economic ground.
Then COVID hit. No, I have to stop saying that. Then our government’s misguided lockdown response to COVID hit. New York City was, literally, ground to a standstill for almost three months. Not only did New York have to deal with thousands of human deaths, but its economy was also now on life support. Then George Floyd was killed on Memorial Day. Riots swept through the city. Hundreds of stores were vandalized and looted. The response from New York City’s mayor? Cut a billion dollars from the NYPD budget. That’s like pouring Napalm on a brush fire. Stupid does not even begin to describe this clown Mayor and the fools in New York City government who voted with him to cut NYPD funding.
Gee… what happens next? I wonder if anyone could guess…
Remember the 1970s and 80s? Welcome to Back To The Future New York City 2020.
The New York Times reported on August 11th that “Retail Chains Abandon Manhattan: ‘It’s Unsustainable’. I guess even the Times can’t hide from reality forever. Want the “highlight” reel? Large chains like J.C. Penney, Kate Spade, Subway, the Gap (the list is long) are leaving New York City. The tourists are gone. The office towers are empty. Astronomical rents, a lack of law and order, and a Governor and Mayor who are hell-bent on destroying businesses is a lethal combination.
My God. Is this really happening? In just a few months? It is tough to believe. It’s also incredibly sad. My heart breaks for New York City. The riots and the looting were terrible enough, but “regular” crime has now skyrocketed. No cash bail policies turn violent thugs right back on the street as soon as they are arrested.
Small businesses have been devastated. Big chains can regroup, move elsewhere, file Chapter 11 – they have more options. What about us? We’re screwed. I will not sugar coat this holocaust. If you own a business in New York City, do not kid yourself. No one is going to flip a switch and make things like they were in 2019. It would be foolish for me (or anyone else outside of your area) to tell you what to do. Not everyone is leaving New York, but you can count on a net population decline over the next 12 to 24 months. Will the commuters and tourists come back? Tourists? Not for months (maybe years) in more significant numbers. Commuters? Working from home is increasingly the norm. Sure, some will come back to their offices, but most? How many will now stay at home? 30%? 40%? 50%?
Gotham’s small business owners’ options are limited. Lenders know the story. Do you think banks are going to bail you out? No. Another round of Fed loans? Based on what, exactly? New York City returning to normal? With Cuomo and De Blasio running things?
If you own a business in the city, get very, very real with yourself. Think worst-case scenario – because that’s precisely what you’re living through right now. Yes, I do understand the flip side. With every crisis comes opportunity. People with bottomless pockets and long investment timelines will make generational fortunes from your misery by purchasing commercial property at bargain-basement prices.
I say this to you as a fellow small business owner. If I thought my situation through and there was no way for me to make it absent economic conditions returning to 2019 conditions, or even 70% of 2019 conditions, I would seriously consider shutting down, taking my losses and moving elsewhere. That said, if you can hang in there or even take advantage of the current distress, then go for it with all you have.
Will New York City ever return to its former glory? As an optimist, I have to believe that’s possible. We must start with new political leadership. As I’m sure many of you agree, I could care less if the people in charge call themselves Republicans or Democrats. What we need are leaders who make decisions based on the best overall interest of the public and not by pandering to a shrill, unrepresentative, and radical political base. When that happens, you’ll know the tide has turned (and not until).