In the Bronx, More Chain Stores

MetroPCS, the cell phone store, led the way in commercial expansion in the Bronx, opening ten stores in the borough in 2015, according to the Center for an Urban Future. Norwood residents frequently stop by this store at 326 E. 204th Street. (Photo by David Cruz)

MetroPCS, the cell phone store, led the way in commercial expansion in the Bronx, opening 10 stores in the borough in 2015, according to the Center for an Urban Future. Norwood residents frequently stop by this store at 326 E. 204th St. (Photo by David Cruz)

The Bronx’s commercial landscape is becoming home to a growing number of chains across the borough, according to a recent report by a New York City-based think tank.

But while some stores have firmly placed their commercial footprint in the Bronx, other establishments are leaving it altogether.

The Center for an Urban Future, a nonprofit research group, reports that the presence of national retailers – defined as a retailer having at least two locations in New York City and at least one location in another state – rose by 3 percent, or 30 stores in the Bronx last year, the most for any borough. Their findings were outlined in their annual “State of the Chains” report, which tracks changes in the number of stores in all five boroughs utilizing the store locator feature on a chain’s website.

The findings represent improved spending power among Bronx residents and renewed interest in a borough that still lags in the number of chain stores compared to the rest of the city.

“All sorts of national companies that, until fairly recently, have stayed away from the borough are now seeing dollar signs,” said Jonathan Bowles, executive director for the Center for an Urban Future. “They’re seeing a relatively untapped market.”

Growth in the number of business outlets has also been helped by higher earning power among Bronx residents and a reduced crime rate, consistent with trends across the city over the past two decades.

Dominating the list of new establishments is MetroPCS, a cell phone company whose commercial presence in the Bronx grew from 52 stores in 2014 to 62 to stores in 2015, according to the report. At one of its stores in Norwood, Fernando Peguero, the store manager, credited the borough’s cheaper rents with convincing owners to set up shop in the Bronx.

“The rent in Manhattan is too expensive for a business to grow,” said Peguero.

Among other national stores that expanded in the Bronx is GNC, the vitamin supplement shop, which opened four stores in 2015. A spokesperson for GNC said its larger presence is due to the Bronx’s “size and diversity of its population.”

“We will continue to invest there, both in terms of company-owned stores as well as franchise stores,” the spokesperson added. “Additionally, the density of the population allows for continued development.”

Dunkin’ Donuts has also opened at more locations. A perennial favorite, the coffee and donut purveyor has 80 stores scattered around the borough, maintaining a higher number than any other retail business.

Justin Drake, senior manager of public relations at Dunkin’ Brands Group, said the brand will continue to “strategically expand our presence in the borough.” Drake declined to disclose the financial health of its establishments in the Bronx.

But while some national names are making their mark in the Bronx, others have scaled back. Rite Aid, McDonald’s, Subway and Duane Reade/Walgreens all either shut some of their Bronx stores down or did not expand their number of stores in the Bronx in 2014. A spokesperson for Rite Aid simply said that it simply did not renew the lease for one of its stores in the neighborhood of Soundview. Still, Rite Aid’s presence is very much felt in the Bronx with a current tally of 39 locations.

How many stores are opened often is linked not only to economics and demographics within neighborhoods, but also to the ease of starting a franchise, which varies from one company to another.

For example, the criteria for opening a Dunkin’ Donuts store involves the franchisee having some experience in the restaurant industry and startup monies in the amount of $250,000 minimum liquid assets and $500,000 minimum net worth, according to its website. GNC, on the other hand, requires an estimated $200,000 in net worth, with a $40,000 startup fee and $100,000 in liquid assets.

The growth of chain stores in the Bronx is not welcomed by those who see the data as further proof of an eroding small business sector. Kirsten Theodos with Take Back NYC, a lobbying group supporting mom and pop stores, pointed to a 30 percent increase in the number of small business court evictions in the Bronx last year, with more than 1,200 small businesses ordered closed.

“[S]adly, it is not all surprising that the Bronx is also outpacing every other borough in the increase of chain stores,” said Theodos, in a statement. “The first victims of gentrification are almost always a neighborhood’s mom and pop business and their employees.”

For several years, the group has attempted to convince the New York City Council to introduce a bill that would require commercial landlords to offer its tenants minimum 10-year leases. So far, the bill remains in committee.

Bowles of the Center for an Urban Future suggests small and big businesses can co-exist in the Bronx, given that there are still so few stores in pockets of the borough.

“Bronx consumers certainly have more choices than they had in a while,” said Bowles. “They don’t have to leave the borough for some things.”

David Cruz is editor of Norwood News. This article was written as part of the Business Reporting Fellowship of the Center for Community and Ethnic Media and funded by a grant from News Corp. 

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