President Trump's Impact on His New York Neighborhood: "It's Bad for Business"
However much Trump Tower is a draw for tourists, it's not enough to make up for the loss of sales: "Maybe once Melania leaves for D.C., people won't be so turned off."
Trump Tower may no longer be beleaguered by news vans, thousands of protestors or street closures (except for 56th Street between Fifth and Madison avenues — that one-block stretch still is restricted for vehicles). But vestiges remain of the madness brought by Donald Trump's presence during the election: a lone protestor holding a "Show me the taxes" sign; steel barricades lining Fifth Avenue; six NYPD officers strapped with machine guns stationed at the tower entrance; and crowds of tourists snapping away on smartphones. "Fifth Avenue is turning into a mini Times Square — I've seen a guy dressed up as him, people selling anti-Trump buttons," says a Fifth Avenue employee. But however much Trump Tower is a draw for tourists (employees there declined comment), it's still not enough to make up for the loss of retail business. "During election week, no one came — the store was like crickets," says an employee at a high-priced retailer across the street. "We don't see our neighborhood customers anymore because they don't want to be bothered. The tourists who come here are not the ones inclined to spend. Instead, people come in here to use the bathroom. So if you don't have regulars and you don't have tourists, what are you going to do?"
A few retail giants such as Apple, Louis Vuitton and Tiffany & Co. claim to be immune. "It affected us during the protest for a week or two," admits a salesperson at Tiffany & Co. "But it has been normal since. We have a 57th Street side entrance, so tourists find a way in." (Tiffany & Co. has reported sales declining 7 percent at the flagship store from November to January.)
The consensus among many retailers, including Armani, Prada and Henri Bendel, is that President Trump has hurt business. "It has definitely slowed down," says Tiana Webb-Peterson, a stylist at Henri Bendel. "Customers were scared to come here because of the police and their guns." Overheard recently at Gucci, where a customer complained: "Ever since Trump was elected, I just thought the store was closed. I didn't know you could walk in." Replied the sales associate, "It has been like that for two months." (News that the Polo Ralph Lauren flagship, located a block from Trump Tower, is closing April 15 adds to the sense of stagnation.) "There's a dry spell going on — this is usually a busy month for retail, and it's quiet right now. It's because of the internet, but also Trump, who deterred people and now that [the election is] over, it still affects the neighborhood. It's bad for business," says a sales associate at Chanel who used to work at Gucci. "Maybe once Melania leaves [for D.C.], people won't be so turned off by the area."
Real estate in the neighborhood also has been impacted by unpredictable security, says Richard Steinberg at Douglas Elliman, which has offices by the tower. "I personally would not show anything from 57th to 55th streets, Madison to Fifth avenues. It's the inconvenience factor. What matters is if you buy an apartment there and can't get in your front door." Steinberg estimates that prices in the tower itself could be down 20 percent, with just two sales recorded since the inauguration (for 13.4 percent and 23.4 percent below asking price).
New York, which ranks highest in the U.S. in overseas visitation, has the most to lose from Trump's policies, says Chris Heywood, spokesman for NYC & Company, the city's official tourism organization. He predicts 300,000 fewer international visitors in 2017.
One person, though, is delighted by all the changes. "A lot of people come here to see Trump Tower," says Hasad, a hot dog stand owner who has been on the corner of 55th and Fifth for 18 years. "The business is better than before."
— Additional reporting by Rebecca Sun
This story first appeared in the April 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.