New Yorkers should avoid the area surrounding Trump Tower, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Friday -- not exactly the type of advice area businesses want to hear heading into the holiday season.
Donald Trump's neighborhood in Midtown Manhattan has been flooded by cops, Secret Service agents and protesters along with the usual hordes of shoppers, tourists and office workers since his surprise election last week. Six demonstrations took place over the past 10 days, resulting in road closings on three occasions. The Saturday after Trump's victory, more than 20,000 protesters gathered outside. Pedestrians are now subject to bag searches when walking on the east side of Fifth Avenue on certain blocks, and Trump Tower is flanked by bomb-sniffing dogs and armed guards.
"We are devoted to making sure this city will keep moving. This is a big challenge and an unprecedented challenge," de Blasio said at a conference at 1 Police Plaza in Manhattan on Friday afternoon.
"We're working in conjunction with retailers and restaurants to make sure they get customers in as easily as possible," said New York City Police Commissioner James O'Neill.
The businesses up and down Fifth Avenue, a premier destination for tourists and shoppers, are facing a stark new reality in the weeks ahead. Trump Tower will largely remain the president-elect's base until his inauguration on January 20. That means a chaotic scene over the next 65 days, including the all-important holiday season.
"Our business has been affected. A lot of businesses around here are going to be affected," said a salesman at one of the stores nearby.
The sidewalks outside stores like Armani, Dolce & Gabanna, Ralph Lauren , Gap , Prada, Abercrombie & Fitch , Microsoft and Harry Winston are now lined with metal barricades. The strip commands some of the highest retail rents in the world, with the average annual rent being $3500 per square foot.
"Drama," said a doorman on 54th street, describing the scene.
Gucci's flagship store flanks Trump Tower. Entrance into it now requires an explanation to police officers and a bag search.
Tiffany TIF sits on the same block as Trump Tower, the next building to the north. The mezzanine floor, which features the watchmaker Patek Philippe, late Thursday morning was completely empty except for two employees. Staff outnumbered shoppers on other floors. More than 10% of sales of total company sales come from the jewelry giant's Fifth Avenue location. Trump purchased the air rights from the story for $5 million years ago.
"I will not tell you that Gucci and Tiffany are my central concerns in life, but I will say the traffic situation is a very real problem," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said while standing outside Trump Tower after meeting with the president-elect on Wednesday.
Gucci and Tiffany did not respond to request for comment on the matter.
The Starbucks inside Trump Tower has seen traffic drop dramatically. The shop's usual customers, deterred by the barricades, armed guards and bomb-sniffing dogs outside, are getting their caffeine fix elsewhere.
"It's been really slow," said a barista.
Some customers still dare to brave the hoopla outside, treating the visit to Trump Tower almost like a tourist activity and staking out in hopes of catching a glimpse of Cabinet picks, family members and other figures entering the building to meet with the president-elect.
"It's better than a Broadway show," said one Long Island woman sipping on coffee at the Trump Tower Starbucks on Thursday morning.
A few tables down sat Denny Cowger, an Ohio native in New York while on layover from Hong Kong. Proudly wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat, he insisted he wound up there by happenstance, though he had been hanging around long enough to see both Eric Trump and Rudy Giuliani file in.
More than five million tourists are expected to travel to New York City between Thanksgiving and New Year's, according to estimates from the city's tourism-marketing agency, NYC & Company, and Fifth Avenue is a top destination for many. But this year, visitors and New Yorkers alike may be inclined to steer clear. Mayor de Blasio would prefer it.
"To the extent that you can avoid the immediate area around Trump Tower, that will make your own life easier and everybody's life easier," he said on Friday.
Everybody except for the businesses counting on a holiday shopping boom.