Retail Density in New York City’s Five Boroughs

David Segal • 7/1/2019
This is the third post in a four part series examining retail density in Northern California, Southern California, and the Five Boroughs of New York City.

New York City is the largest and densest city in the country, by a very large margin. The state of New York was founded in 1776 while California was founded in 1850. So, it is instructive to look to New York to see where these younger California geographies may be heading. Compared to the Northern and Southern California geographies, New York has a different climate; it is the center of American finance, has a more robust public transit system, is built taller due to less earthquake risk, and has a different economic base. These are just a few differences, and they are significant. In terms of the statistics that are the focus of this article, we can see just how dense New York is compared to Southern California and the Bay Area. The totals or averages for the areas surveyed are shown in the following table.

In the 303 square miles that comprise New York City, there are more people than there are in the entire Bay Area. Los Angeles County is slightly larger than New York City in terms of total population (18%) and households (5%), but it is spread out over 4,058 square miles of land area or 13 times that of New York City. The most noticeable effect of housing and population density can be seen by comparing total retail square feet. Los Angeles County has 62% more retail area than New York City, but only moderately more population, housing, and purchasing power. This strongly suggests that density is a key factor in determining the amount of supportable retail.

As population density and household density continues to increase in Los Angeles and the Bay Area, we should expect retail ratios to trend toward those exhibited in New York City. A table of coefficients for the various relationships will be presented in the conclusion.

The per unit ranges in New York City are wider than those in Southern California and the Bay Area. The large commuter population, existing infrastructure, population density, and economic industries are some reasons that contribute to these discrepancies.


  • Total retail per capita ranges from 22 to 37 square feet per person. The best fit (from linear regression) indicates a relationship of 34 square feet per person.
  • The range based on purchasing power is 917 to 1,923 square feet per $1 million of purchasing power. The best fit (from linear regression) indicates a relationship of 1,146 square feet per $1 million. The amount of retail area as a function of purchasing power is not a good predictor with a correlation factor of 0.61.
  • The amount of retail per household ranges from 66 to 106 square feet per household. The best fit (from linear regression) indicates a relationship of 70 square feet per household.

Up Next: Concluding the Retail Density Series

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