SoHo residents say huge crowds outside new Nike store are driving them crazy

SoHo had a swanky new Niketown last week, which is nice for sneakerheads but much less nice for neighborhood residents who say the store has drawn rowdy crowds flooding nearby streets and sidewalks.

The six-story, 55,000-square-foot store, located on the corner of Broadway and Spring Street, was controversial even before it opened. Earlier this month, elected officials including council member Margaret Chin and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, along with members of the SoHo Alliance and Community Board 2, staged a public protest outside the New York Department of Buildings, arguing that the store would already clog up a congested neighborhood.

“SoHo residents and tourists are packed in like sardines, especially along Broadway, and many are forced to walk down the street,” SoHo Alliance director Sean Sweeney said in a statement earlier this month. . “This new Nike building will bring hundreds more people per hour to a dangerously crowded sidewalk. Doesn’t the Buildings Department care about the safety and well-being of tourists and residents of this city?”

Nonetheless, the store opened on November 18, and locals posted photos and videos on social media showing massive crowds outside:

It doesn’t seem like being in a crush is much fun either:

Neighbors told the Post that the store’s grand opening was a ‘ridiculous mess’, with one local calling it ‘[o]is one of the most disruptive events of its kind I’ve ever seen.” Another told the tabloid that at 11:30 a.m., “It looked like a nightclub, not a store. There were big guys like bouncers in front who were yelling and pushing people.”

Residents fear that big events in the store, such as the planned “Swoosh Saturdays” events, which will feature celebrities, could draw even more people to the area. Elected officials like Chin, who represents the area, say zoning laws should have prevented the store and other large-scale retail outlets from opening. Chin, Brewer, and CB2 President Tobi Bergman wrote a letter to the DOB in February 2015 expressing concern about what they call a “big box retail explosion in SoHo.”

“We live in New York, not Niketown,” Chin said in a statement earlier this month. “For too long, builders have been allowed to circumvent or completely ignore zoning laws established to protect our communities from out-of-character and out-of-scale development for our historic neighborhoods.”

Chin’s team says things haven’t changed since the store opened. “What we have in SoHo is a lack of enforcement of existing zoning rules,” Chin spokesman Paul Leonard told Gothamist, noting that the DOB had cleared the company to bring a modification to the building that allowed it to open. “We don’t think an amendment should have been granted. Niketown is the kind of large-scale retail business that we believe has been allowed to proliferate in our neighborhood.”

He added, “It’s hurting the quality of life. It’s hurting other business owners. A destination store like this isn’t really appropriate for this iconic and historic neighborhood.”

The DOB confirmed it allowed an expansion to the building under the 2008 Building Code and said the business did not need a special permit to install a large-scale retail store. The department provided Gothamist with the following statement:

The DOB reviewed the project several times and determined that it complied with NYC building codes and the zoning resolution. In April 2015, DOB audited many retail store projects in the area, including this one. Again, we found that the project complies with the law. DOB will continue to closely review changes to properties in the neighborhood and will take enforcement action, if necessary.

Still, elected officials say they will do what they can to fight the city over large-scale retail stores. “When you have a store that’s so out of scale for the neighborhood, it really has an effect,” Leonard said. “[Niketown] has four floors. It has half a basketball court. There is a lack of recognition that this is New York. In this emblematic district, it is out of place.”

With Emma Whitford.

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