Vacancy on Columbus Avenue

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A reader asks, what's up with the empty storefronts on Columbus Avenue?

The Upper West Side is known as the land of desirable commercial real estate. In fact, Barbara Adler, from the Columbus Avenue Business Improvement District, claims that nearly 100 percent of the storefronts in her area of jurisdiction are occupied.

So what is up with the storefronts scattered throughout the Upper West Side that have been shuttered and bordered up for years? A reader pointed out some of them to us: Georgia's Café on 89th and Broadway, which shut its doors almost two years ago; the now-closed Uptown Birds, on Amsterdam between 85th and 86th, which had its last Yelp review in 2009. And one of the major eyesores of the neighborhood: 543 Columbus Avenue - a boarded up, graffiti-covered storefront that has been vacant for decades.

According to business and real estate experts, these storefronts are anomalies.

"Every empty store is a different story," said Rafe Evans, senior vice president for Walker Molloy brokerage company, who blames the landlords in many cases, more so than the market. "There are tenants for these spaces if the landlords are reasonable or motivated. There's no such thing as a space on the West Side that would not be able to find a good fit."

We investigated some of the specific spots to try and find out why they've sat empty.

2418 Broadway between 89th and 90th St. - This seemingly - deserted storefront used to be Georgia's Café - a fairly controversial place when it was open. "Frequently the issues of Georgia's had come before the community board," said Andrew Albert, a representative from the West Manhattan Chamber of Commerce. "[The owner] put in an air conditioning unit which bothered people next door, and had other various violations." According to Rafe Evans, there was also a fire in the building, and the landlord decided not to re-open the commercial space because they were under-insured. In December however, the building was sold to Manhattan-based real estate owners Albert and Robert Gilardian of the Gilar Group for $47 million. A new restaurant will be opening soon at the location.

522 Amsterdam Avenue between 85th and 86th St. - What used to be Uptown Birds is now completely empty.

According to the Department of Buildings, a partial stop-work order has been in place for the building since last year for unsafe work conditions, but the issue was resolved. The real story, according to Evans, who has worked on the building, the place will not sell because the owner refuses to either remove the scaffolding from the building, or to lower the price based on that undesirable part of the building. As a result, he said, the landlord is stuck between a rock and a "for rent" sign, and has not seen any interest in the building.

543 Columbus Avenue and 86th St. - This space has been an empty shell for years, and according to Rafe Evans, the reason why is a bit of a mystery. He said that the storefront is allegedly owned by the family who operates Three Star Coffee Shop next door. Occasionally, he said, a "For Rent" sign will go up in the window, but it will soon be taken down, which is a shame, said Rafe, because the area is prime real estate. According to the Department of Buildings database, the building is owned by Columbus West LLC, and a Stop Work Order has existed on the property since 2008 for structural instability of the building.

"It's a matter of weird personalities very often," said Evans. "How some of these people get to control millions of dollars of assets is beyond me."

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