The 10 Biggest Chain Stores in NYC as Mom and Pops Disappear (Guess the Biggest! Hint, It's Not Starbucks)

As the economy flounders and costs paradoxically go up, one disturbing trend sticks out: Mom and pop stores are disappearing in NYC and across the country, while national chains add more and more stores.

If you guessed that Dunkin' Donuts is the most ubiquitous New York City chain, you would be correct. It tops the list with 448 stores* ("one for every 18,731 residents," as the New York Post points out). But if you work or live in Manhattan and thought Starbucks, then your perceptions for the island would be accurate. Although there are "only" 227 Starbucks (#5) in NYC, 182 of them are in Manhattan, an average of eight Starbucks per square mile. Dunkin' Donuts has 138 stores in Queens, and approximately 105 in Manhattan. Close behind Dunkin' Donuts, as the most proliferate chain, is Subway, with 435 stores (and the company with the most stores in Manhattan, with 189).

The November special Issue of the indispensable City Limits, a cutting-edge policy magazine concerned with low-income participation in NYC civic life, focuses on "Mom and Popeyes: The Death and Life of the Neighborhood Store." (Although City Limits has a good Web site, this issue is not online; you'll have to go to the news stand or bookstore to buy the magazine, which has a great photo spread of city neighborhoods by Mark Fader).

New York City, known for its vibrant, thriving local neighborhoods filled with ethnic flavors still has, as editor Jarrett Murphy describes, "genuine neighborhood retail on dozens of streets in the city," like Arthur Avenue in the Belmont section of the Bronx. "Not only do these strips pleasingly mix commerce with life's other ingredients...they still feature the small, independent, mom-and-pop businesses that anchor neighborhoods and make them unique."

But like in communities all across the country, as Melanie Lefcowicz reports, "Independent retail is an endangered species...losing ground steadily to regional and national chains " Murphy adds: "Chain stores are not evil incarnate; they do provide jobs and tax dollars. But they simply don't have the same stake in a neighborhood as a truly local business."

The creative think-tank, Center for an Urban Future, has done two comprehensive studies of chain-store proliferation. In the summer of 2009, there were a few large companies that bit the dust, like Circuit City and Burritoville. But their analysis included a surprising finding: "Dozens of chain stores actually have expanded their footprint in the five boroughs over the past year. Over 30 percent of the retailers from their previous year’s report have opened more stores in the city in the past twelve months, and an equal share has held firm with the same number of stores as in 2008."

The chain that many New Yorkers love to hate, McDonalds, ranks at #3 in the number of locations, with 245 stores in NYC (73 in Manhattan), while other fast-food chains have relatively smaller footprints -- Burger King 82, KFC 69, Wendy's 43, White Castle 35 and Taco Bell 32.

If you think banks seem to be on every other corner, especially in Manhattan, that is probably because there are 380 Chase locations in NYC (145 in Manhattan) and they would rank #3 if we were counting banks in terms of branch locations. The next four banks would all be in the top 10 (for this article, the ranked list is limited to retail chains): 150 Capital One, 135 Citibank, 116 HSBC, and 111 Bank Of America branches. For many New Yorkers the plague-like proliferation of banks, even as local businesses go belly-up, is a source of frustration.

Obviously, banks can and do pay high rents for their spaces, pushing other businesses out. But the question remains -- with more people doing their banking online, what is the strategy for super bank concentration in affluent neighborhoods, when a number of less wealthy neighborhoods go bankless. Is it simply a question of trying to dominate geography and capture consumers within easy walking distance -- the Starbuck's model -- with banks?

Another head-scratcher has been the great battle of the drugstores, going head to head, often within a block of each other in Manhattan. It appeared that Duane Reade (#6) had come out on top, with 233 stores overall, and 158 in Manhattan, but that is only part of the story. Earlier this year Walgreen's, by far the largest drugstore chain in the country, with sales totaling $63.34 billion in fiscal 2009, gobbled up Duane Reade for $620 million (Walgreen's assumed $480 million in debt) now making the Walgreen's chain the dominant presence in New York City. Walgreen's apparently liked the newly renovated Duane Reade stores, so instead of competing, in NYC, where they only had 87 stores, they bought the competition. Rite Aid (#8) has 198 stores (62 in Queens) and CVS, Walgreen's biggest competitor nationwide, has 177 stores in NYC.

Filling out the top 10 of chains in NYC are Baskin-Robins (#7), with approximately 207 stores (46 in Manhattan), Radio Shack (#9) with approximately 115, and GNC (#10), with approximately 110. Close behind, but outside of the top 10, are Sleepy's, CVS, Payless, T-Mobile and Burger King. Far more modestly are bookstores, according to the NY Post: Barnes and Noble 16, Borders 9. Beauty: Sephora, 21 stores. One surprise if you spend much time traveling around the U.S. is the relative lack of 7-11s, with only 51 in the city in 2009 (only four in Manhattan). That is why it was a bit of a shock when a 7-11 sprang up near my apartment on 93rd and Amsterdam (make that at least five for Manhattan). Hopefully that is not a portent of a 7-11 invasion of Manhattan.

*Center for an Urban Future did a comprehensive study of chain-store presence in NYC in the summer of 2009 found here. The New York Post updated some of those findings with a short feature by Candice Giove, on November 14. In this article, the updated Post numbers are used where available, but the Center has numbers for many more city retail chain businesses, but they are approximate numbers, since they are more than a year old.


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