Insider Today: The death of downtowns

Plus: Elon’s super app ambitions, and interview mistakes to avoid.

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October 31, 2023 • 5 min read
with Dan DeFrancesco
Happy Halloween! Here are the best Halloween costumes celebrity couples have worn this year if you still need some last-minute inspiration.

In today’s big story, we’re looking at the behind-the-scenes player that’s partly responsible for keeping all the storefronts in your neighborhood empty.

What’s on deck:
But first, did you hear about that shop closing down?

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Illustration showing a store going out of business
Tyler Le/Insider
The big story
Struggling storefronts
It’s been tough sledding for businesses with physical storefronts these days.

If the initial shock of the pandemic didn’t put them out of business, many were bled dry by the lack of foot traffic from workers not returning to their offices and city residents fleeing for the suburbs.

In total, more than 2,800 stores have already closed across the US this year.

But the number of empty storefronts overwhelming downtowns isn’t just a product of the post-pandemic world. A key culprit keeping retail spaces empty is banks, Insider’s Adam Rogers writes.

Lenders often have a say in the lease terms retail landlords can offer potential tenants. So even as empty storefronts pile up, banks are unwilling to have landlords cut deals that would lower a building’s rental income, thereby decreasing its value.

There is one exception banks are willing to make, but it’s not encouraging for those hoping for a diverse downtown. National brands — such as Starbucks or Target — often get a pass because lenders know these corporate behemoths cover rent regardless of what happens to the location.

If all that wasn’t depressing enough, it’s not getting any better. As Adam points out, retail space is being added across the country despite the surplus of empty storefronts because many cities require new apartment buildings to include space for shops on the ground floor.

chart that shows how millennials spend more on big ticket items, while boomers spend more on healthcare and slightly more on entertainment
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
As crucial as it is to fill these empty storefronts, it’s also fair to consider what ends up going in them.

When it comes to local downtowns, not all small businesses are created equally.

Sometimes, shops that gobble up prime retail real estate don’t feel like they’re serving the residents living there.

Take a small town in upstate New York I used to live in. It’s become overrun with vintage clothing shops and tchotchke stores. Instead of businesses that would attract and benefit locals, these shops cater to weekenders making their pilgrimage “upstate.”

I understand the value of attracting tourists to a town, but these stores feel more like they provide window-shopping opportunities for out-of-towners as opposed to building a long-term business that can grow with the community.

And while you could argue something is always better than nothing, the real connection these stores have to the community feels strained at best.

3 things in

🔔 Before the opening bell: US stock futures trade mixed early Tuesday, while the yen weakened past 150 per dollar after the BOJ kept interest rates steady.

Wall Street traders
Lucas Jackson/Reuters
1. Choose your own adventure: the future of the stock market. Vanguard’s chief investment officer believes the S&P 500 will only yield between 4.7% and 6.7% over the next few years thanks to sky-high valuations. Meanwhile, Raymond James’ chief investment officer sees a year-end rally for the S&P 500 after solid earnings from Big Tech and the Fed nearing the end of its tightening cycle.

2. Some Morgan Stanley executives just got PAID. The race for Morgan Stanley’s next CEO is over, but no one is going home empty-handed. The bank gave $20 million bonuses to soon-to-be CEO Ted Pick and fellow contenders Andy Saperstein and Dan Simkowitz.

3. We’re running out of that money we all saved during the pandemic. A chart from JPMorgan highlights how consumers have spent most of their excess savings. From a peak of $2.1 trillion in August 2021, JPMorgan estimates that figure is now about $148 billion.

3 things in
Elon Musk and X app
Joel Saget/AFP via Getty Images; Sheldon Cooper/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
1. Elon Musk’s ambitions for X knows no bounds. The billionaire owner of X, formerly Twitter, said during an all-hands call he wants “someone’s entire financial life” on the platform, The Verge reported. However, experts have previously questioned how realistic Musk’s goals of turning X into a so-called super app are.

2. Apple unveils new versions of its popular MacBook Pro laptops and iMac desktop. These models mark the debut of Apple’s new M3 processors, which promise big improvements in both speed and graphical power. Insider’s Reviews team has all the details.

3. Google executive maps out the mistakes to avoid during interviews. Daniel Rizea is a director of engineering at Google and has conducted over 1,000 interviews during his career. He explained what you should think through before your next interview and the importance of being well-rested.

3 things in
Collage of influential women in sports
Just Women’s Sports; Prime Video; ESPN; Insider
1. The most influential women executives in sports media. We identified the top women shaping and innovating the industry, whether it’s through driving deals with the NFL and NBA or expanding coverage into women’s sports. Check out all 28 leaders here.

2. Survey says… Walmart customers are confused. The retail giant is trying to get shoppers to complete its checkout survey. But there’s a problem. Workers and customers aren’t sure what the survey is evaluating.

3. The secrets to getting a low mortgage rate. Newly built homes provide an opportunity for below-market rates thanks to the incentives homebuilders can offer. A homebuilder executive breaks down the do’s and don’ts that’ve helped her clients lower rates from 8% to 4.875%.

In other news

What’s happening today
  • The Fed meets to discuss interest rates. The Federal Open Market Committee’s two-day meeting culminates with a decision about whether to raise, lower, or maintain rates.
  • Heidi Klum’s annual Halloween party in New York City. The supermodel is known for her over-the-top costumes, including a seven-foot-tall metallic superhero and a giant worm.
  • Earnings today: Pfizer, Samsung, and other companies.

Collage of kids looking at phone, against a picture of an etiquette coach
Courtesy of Jayne Withers
For your bookmarks
Pinkies up
An etiquette coach on fixing Gen Zers’ biggest mistakes. Jayne Withers recommends putting your phone away and focusing on being fully engaged.
The Insider Today team

Dan DeFrancesco, senior editor and anchor, in New York City. Diamond Naga Siu, senior reporter, in San Diego. Hallam Bullock, editor, in London. Lisa Ryan, executive editor, in New York.

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