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Morning Spew

Retail in New York City Is a Tough Nut to Crack

The Center for an Urban Future's new "State of the Chains" report is a bleak one for most of the city's biggest retailers.

A stuffed dog in a storefront display.
(Hell Gate)

According to the Center for an Urban Future's 16th annual "State of the Chains" report, things aren't going great for chain retailers in New York City. According to the report, which was released December 12, this year saw a 3.1 percent decline in the number of chain stores across all five boroughs. Cell phone companies like T-Mobile, Metro by T-Mobile, and AT&T, in addition to pharmacies like Rite Aid took the biggest hits, per the report, and the city's eight largest chain retailers all have fewer locations in the city now than they did in 2019, pre-COVID. 

It's not bleak for every chain in the game, though. According to the report, a few kinds of retailers made gains this year: package delivery chains like the UPS and FedEx Office, non-burger fast food chains like Popeye's and Taco Bell, dessert spots like Baskin-Robbins and Insomnia Cookies, coffee chains like Starbucks and Joe Coffee, and a handful of clothing stores, like Claire's, Intimissimi, and Alo, all added new locations in the city in 2023. 

But one chain business that the report highlights as gaining ground stands out above the rest, because it's weird and because I live near one of its locations—the Nuts Factory, a retailer that sells nuts, candies, spice blends, dried fruits, granola, and coffee and tea, some pre-packaged and some in scoopable containers for bulk purchasing. Anecdotally, I have never seen anyone in my neighborhood carrying a bag from the Nuts Factory. Nor have I witnessed anyone walk past the disturbingly human-sized, cowboy hat-wearing inflatable peanut outside of the store, enter, and actually make a purchase. Still, according to the State of the Chains report, the number of Nuts Factory locations in the city doubled in 2023, from just five locations to a whopping 10 across Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan. 

Sure, the Nuts Factory has a long way to go before it usurps the chain retailer with the most locations in New York City—that would be Dunkin Donuts, which has 619 NYC locations. But there has to be some lesson to be gleaned from a business that's doing (by all appearances) perplexingly well in some of the city's more expensive neighborhoods, like Park Slope, Cobble Hill, UES, UWS, and Greenwich Village. And to be clear, the Nuts Factory experience is a seemingly soulless, fluorescent void that has nothing on the dynamic and electrifying atmosphere you get in a really solid Dunkin outpost—or even a good Claire's.

Do other chain retailers need to be doing more in the advertising department, like, say, creating an M&M-style cinematic universe of anthropomorphic nuts (including a few eyebrow-raisers, like this pistachio who is "originally from the Bronx" and an almond with an accent, mustache, and red bandana) for social media? Does Metro by T-Mobile need to start selling white chocolate bark? Or is the secret to consumer happiness and exponential growth something startlingly simple, and other places simply overthinking everything? I'll let this reply on a thread in the Astoria subreddit about a Nuts Factory opening in the neighborhood earlier this year speak for itself:

We must treat our existing chains with far more respect, lest we find ourselves in a world gone nuts. 

Some nutty links for your Tuesday morning:

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