Analyzing the economic impact of covid in Tribeca

A Norwegian data company — its founders also created Tidal, which Jay-Z acquired — has crunched location data from cell phone apps and released a white paper that analyzes the movements of New Yorkers. It explains a lot, but at the same time leaves out the biggest question: is this forever?

The report from Unacast shows that Tribeca has had a net loss of 3500 residents, acknowledging the inevitable flow in and out. In the past year, they report that 8000 of the nearly 20,000 residents of Tribeca* had emigrated from the neighborhood starting in February, and while 4500 moved into the neighborhood, they have less income than the folks who left, who were averaging more than $200,000 each. The company estimates it’s a loss of $1 billion in buying power in Tribeca alone.

And the recovery is slow. None of the census block groups — tiny fractions of census tracts with about a 1000 people — have recovered, though they said 63 percent of them are trending that way. “The area around Independence Plaza, bereft of most of its workers, is the least recovered in Tribeca, hovering near -80% foot traffic compared to 2019.”

Of course there is always a lot of flow in New York City — in the period they examined, 3.57 million left the city. And while 3.5 million moved in, the net loss of 70,000 — plus the lower incomes of the folks who came — extrapolates to a $34 billion loss to the city in economic gains. Ask any restaurant owner and you get the picture.

The company partners with several apps to track the location of people’s phones, and they measure that data in periods of eight weeks. After eight weeks, they consider the move permanent, vs. a long vacation. So it’s in that detail where the ultimate question lies. Just who will come back when this thing is over?

* Some details on the data:

  • For a Tribeca population number, they added three census tracts: 21, 33 and 39 (which gets you to 17,700)
  • The report covers the time from Jan. 1, 2019, to Dec. 7, 2020
  • The data is anonymized and moved up to neighborhood level (from someone’s actual home address)
  • They say the data is privacy compliant and their policy is here


  1. We left in April. We have kids. Everything being closed sucks. But the real issue for us is the descent into lawlessness.

    I hope to be back one day, but not I’m not optimistic at the moment.

    • Thanks, Reademan. IT would be great to have the emptiness filled up — it’s been years for many of those spots — the nail salon, Josephine’s Cafe, the Pizzeria — gone for a long time and empty.

    • Agree. The recent attack of the bicycle hoodlums at 5th Ave and 21 St in broad daylight is only the latest example of the descent of NYC into 1970’s style violent chaos. I left in ’78, returned in 2003 and left again after the summer’s riots. Where’s the social justice for Tessa Majors?

    • More local lawlessness. If only there were a police station or two nearby…

      “A crazed man left 10 people injured and a wild trail of destruction behind him during a Manhattan rampage Saturday night that involved subway assaults, street beat-downs and two carjackings, according to cops and police sources.

      “Suspect Bryan Thompson, 43, of Atlantic City, NJ, was wielding what his victims said was everything from a bat to tree branch to wooden clubs — or all of the above at various times — as he raged from Tribeca to Chelsea for less than an hour, police and sources said. […]

      “He was in the station at Varick and Canal streets when he battered at least three people — a 39-year-old woman, 18-year-old Manhattan man and 57-year-old guy — over the head ‘with a wooden weapon’ in ‘unprovoked’ attacks on the uptown No. 2 (sic) train platform, the NYPD said. […]

      “Thompson then fled the subway and hit another 39-year-old woman on the street nearby with the same object, police said. Then he spotted a 39-year-old man in or next to a parked idling SUV on Seventh Avenue near the entrance to the Holland Tunnel and allegedly attacked him, cutting him on the forehead. The victim fled, leaving his vehicle running, and Thompson hopped behind the wheel and zoomed off, cops said.

      “He smashed the speeding black SUV into two parked unoccupied vehicles before crashing it around Sixth Avenue and Laight Street, police said. Thompson then dumped the car and tried to carjack a 2006 Ford Taurus from a woman by breaking its rear window and attempting to drag her from the vehicle, they said.

      “He eventually threw in the towel on that carjacking, moving on to a 2020 Jeep Grand Cherokee nearby, police said. He allegedly broke a side window of the car and tried to swipe it from its 32-year-old female driver, again to no avail. […]

      “The frustrated Thompson ran off again — only to attack two people, beating them with ‘a wooden weapon,’ walking near the Hilton Garden Inn, police said. One of the pedestrians, a 42-year-old Texas man, suffered a broken arm, while the 41-year-old woman with him had a badly bruised and swollen leg, sources said.

      “Thompson then successfully carjacked his second vehicle, a 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee, after threatening the 33-year-old male driver who had just parked in front of 66 West Broadway, police said. […] “

  2. Love the data stories, thank you.

  3. Very interesting! In the conclusion of the report they note some opportunities for a changing demographic:

    “Perhaps a mid market clothing retailer or eatery that has lacked the rent money or addressable market to tackle Tribeca previously can leverage the weak commercial leasing market to acquire a quality storefront and find success with the thousands of less affluent folks that are moving to the neighborhood.”

    Maybe not such a bad thing if the neighborhood adjusts a little.

    • I agree. And you have to really look at this data a year from now. I bet the changes are not as stark. I dont like to see any business fail, but if there is an empty space that can go for less to a new shop trying to make it, then that is a win.

  4. So, the study says that 3.5mm people left NYC and another 3.5mm moved in? That would be a 40%+ net turnover of NYC population. No way that’s correct.

  5. I live in a small building. 2 of the 4 units vacated to their homes upstate. One family left for 5 months and is back. The other family comes back every month or so for a few days to a month. Our block was empty and is now fuller as evidenced by lights at night and garbage on the street. We’ll see if more come back. Commercial landlords have seemed content with their empty storefronts — we all know that — Independence Plaza row on Greenwich, Dudley’s Paws, and that group of stores — we have had empty storefronts since way before the Pandemic. So I am not convinced that hopeful entrepreneurs who have the energy and vision to start up a new enterprise will find willing landlords. It would be nice to welcome homey good reasonably priced eateries and affordable stores into the neighborhood. But I am not convinced that landlords will let them take root.

    • The retail you reference has been under construction and was not available for lease. The Independence plaza retail is now finishing a major renovation, and I believe Vornado has tenants for at least some of the spaces who will be moving in.

  6. Waiting for Tribeca to go back to the restaurant / cafe / lounge and boutique heaven it once was.

  7. How about some help for the landlords? I believe an adjustment in TriBeCa was called for. Commercial and residential real estate taxes out of control in NYC. Some due to taxes, a lot due to greediness. Commercial tenants need some sort of ceiling for the next few years.

  8. P.S. Landlords – follow the lead of Jerry Walker!

  9. Anyone know how they came up with their income estimates? It doesn’t say in the report. It also doesn’t say where they received the cell phone data. If they received it from phone companies…when do phone companies collect income data? Maybe when you first sign up? Just curious how accurate these numbers are…

    • The location data is from apps, as the story says (it’s in their Q&A as well). Once they have the location data they assign it a median income based on the US Census, specifically the American Community Survey 2018.