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Thursday, 1 November, 2001, 18:34 GMT
Harlem's rebirth stalls
Harlem street scene
Harlem's recent revival has stalled since 11 September
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By David Schepp
BBC News Online North America business reporter

At Sylvia's Restaurant in the heart of New York City's Harlem neighbourhood, tourists and locals alike still face having to queue up to eat some of the most famous soul food anywhere.

Shop owner Jim Elliott
Jim Elliott's vitamin shop has been hurt by the attacks
But while Sylvia's may look prosperous, the rest of Harlem has been shaken to its core by the terror attacks of 11 September, compounding the ill effects of a slowing US economy.

Just six weeks ago, Harlem was aglow with hope over a second renaissance. With a record number of apartment buildings being built, new shops and restaurants opening and former-President Bill Clinton taking up residence in the storied neighbourhood, it appeared good times were finally returning.

But the terror attacks and the subsequent economic toll exacted on New York City have Harlem business leaders anxious about the future.

Bad for business

"I'm very worried," says Jim Elliott, who owns the Long Life Vitamins shop on 125th Street. He says his business is down by a quarter since the attacks.

"If my business is off 25%," he told BBC News Online, "I can't stay in business for a long period of time."

Construction site in Harlem
Construction project plans have changed
Small, neighbourhood businesses in Harlem were already in a fight for survival before 11 September.

Big corporate retail outlets, such as Old Navy and Walt Disney, drawn to Harlem by its emerging prosperity, were threatening smaller "mom-and-pop" operations.

Now, with sales slowing, many smaller shops fear the only survivors will be the deep-pocketed corporate chains.

Projects on hold

Existing businesses are not the only ones feeling stuck. Some new commercial construction projects in Harlem are now in doubt.

Harlem Center, a 130,000 square-foot retail shopping centre under construction just down the street from Sylvia's, was to include a new hotel as part of the second phase of development.

Real-estate broker Robin Prescod
Robin Prescod: "I feel that the renaissance is still going on."
But the terror attacks have affected those plans, says Karen Phillips, chief executive of the Abyssinian Development Corporation, a not-for-profit organisation.

"After 11 September, the drop in tourism, and the really high vacancy rates in existing hotels has made it virtually impossible for us to think about doing a future development that includes hotel space," she told BBC News Online.

Ms Phillips says that the search continues to provide office space to those businesses displaced by the destruction of the Twin Towers.

"However, we have not got the level of attention we assumed, primarily because people don't think of Harlem as a place to have business or commercial offices," Ms Phillips says, adding that she believes it to be an "excellent" setting.

Search for optimism

Harlem's location and proximity to numerous transportation sources are two reasons a housing boom has ensued in recent years.

But lately, Harlem's real estate market has been smarting, too. Rents have fallen about 15% in the weeks following the attacks, says Robin Prescod, a broker with Harlem Homes Realty.

She notes, for example, a two-bedroom "floor-through" now goes for about $1,600 a month, compared with $1,800 seven weeks ago - an 11% decrease.

Sounding a brighter note, however, she says a recent open house for a townhouse brought a flood of interest.

"I had over 30 people come and inspect the house," she says. "That's a good sign that maybe the fright has subsided and that people are ready to start shopping again."

While interest in home buying tapered off immediately following 11 September, near-record low interest rates have pushed some homebuyers back into the market in Harlem, leaving Ms Prescod feeling optimistic.

"I feel that the renaissance is still going on," she says. "It fell asleep and now it's awakening again."

Terror's impact

Signs of a slowdown

Rate cuts


Key players

See also:

30 Jul 01 | Americas
Clinton moves up to Harlem
23 Dec 00 | Americas
Harlem's second coming
11 Sep 01 | Americas
US shocked by terror attacks
11 Oct 01 | Americas
Met chief learns NY terror lessons
12 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
Witnesses recall terror of attack
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