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SoHo Reels Economically As Shoppers Vanish in the Pandemic

“Without tourists, it’s dead down here,” said Carlos Garcia, the manager of Mystique Boutique, a locally owned clothing store on Broadway that now closes at 7 p.m., two hours earlier than it used to.

Starting in November, travel restrictions will be eased for international visitors who are vaccinated, but city officials say it could take until 2025 for overseas tourism to return to previous levels.

SoHo was facing challenges even before the pandemic, given the steady decline of brick-and-mortal retail. But the problems have worsened amid the recession set off by the pandemic and the accompanying explosion in online shopping.

One of the largest real estate companies in New York, Vornado Realty Trust, recently sold two properties in SoHo, along with several on Madison Avenue, at a $7 million loss. Only a third of the buildings’ storefronts were occupied, the company said.

Still, property owners and neighborhood business leaders say there is reason for optimism. Foot traffic has risen in recent months, as has the number of subway riders at SoHo stations. New retailers are moving in, including the sporting goods brand Wilson’s first flagship store, and some start-ups are leasing office space, though often for less money at shorter terms.

“Retail rents had gotten too high,” said Jeffrey Gural, the chairman of GFP Real Estate, which owns several SoHo buildings. “In some cases, they were taking the space for marketing, knowing they weren’t going to be profitable stores. Those days are over.”

Before the neighborhood’s current travails, many residents and business owners were locked in a bitter dispute with the city over a proposed rezoning that would allow for 3,200 new apartments, including hundreds of below-market-rate units. The proposal has stirred up concerns, common in SoHo for decades, that any change would disrupt the character of an area that young artists put on the map a half-century ago.