Barely past 7 a.m. on a Sunday morning, Munir Hoda, a front desk attendant at the New York Inn, located on Eighth Avenue between 46th and 47th streets, propped open the hotel’s narrow door to let some of the brisk December air into the windowless lobby. Propping open the door helped on two fronts: it not only let in some much-needed fresh air, but also obstructed visitors’ view of the partial vacate order posted by the New York City Mayor’s Task Force nearly three years ago.
Despite the six-page vacate notice taped to the door, the New York Inn seemed to be doing a brisk business. According to Hoda, all of the hotel’s 28 occupiable rooms were full the previous night. The 12 rooms condemned by the city on February 4, 2010, due to inadequate fire safety protections, however, must remain empty. City regulations allow the hotel to continue to operate the non-condemned rooms indefinitely.
There is a lack of competition at their price point in the neighborhood – rooms for midweek nights in January go for $99 per night before taxes — because many of their neighboring low-cost competitors have shuttered in recent years.
Rooms for less than $100 per night are disappearing as Times Square gentrifies. When the area was at its seediest, these hotels proliferated; in addition to the New York Inn, there was the Elk Hotel, the Hotel Carter and the Aladdin. Though it is difficult to date many of these hotels, the New York Inn has a fading painted façade advertises steam, hot & cold water, and housekeeping, which speaks to its age. Only the New York Inn and the Hotel Carter remain, though the Hotel Carter recently completed renovations and is no longer part of the under-$100 per night market.
“We are definitely the cheapest left near Times Square,” said Hoda of the New York Inn. “There used to be more one-star [hotels], but now most of the hotels are two- or three-star.”’
Jose Yap, a front desk attendant at Hotel Carter who has been on job for a year, said that the hotel had “just become a two-star not long ago” and is still upgrading, replacing older TVs and painting some walls. “We are almost always sold out of rooms. Seven hundred rooms almost all full right now,” said Yap, who added that rooms at the Carter go for about $139 a night.
A TripAdvisor search for affordable hotels in the neighborhood read like a memorial to lost inexpensive lodging. An April 2012 TripAdvisor review of the Manhattan Inn Hostel, on the corner of 30th Street and Eighth Avenue, called it, “Clean, Basic, affordable and quite central!” But the Manhattan Inn Hotel is now closed and placarded with its own city vacate notices, dated April 2010, which also cited issues with fire safety.
Andrew Skinner does not miss the padlocked Hotel Elk, which closed its doors in February after the property was sold. Skinner is a manager at Café Fresco, an one-and-a-half year old salad, sandwich and pasta shop located directly below the former Hotel Elk on 42nd Street between Eighth and Ninth avenues.
“There was a lot of crazy stuff going on there,” said Skinner. “There were always homeless people and drug addicts hanging around.”
The owner of Times Square News, the convenience store next to Café Fresceo, however, misses the hotel. “After they left, it was bad for business,” he said. “We are [still] selling beer and cigarettes, the same things, but 30% less profit. At least 25% less.”
New York Inn guests had mixed opinions about their hotel. Chew See Hoe, the representative of a Malaysian kitchen equipment manufacturer who was in New York on business, was unhappy with the hotel and after a night there planned to move to a hostel on 47th Street.
Chew saw a room online for $140 per night, and booked four nights. Once he arrived, he decided he wanted out, but by changing his stay from four nights to two, he had to pay each night separately according to the daily rate. He ended up paying $300 for Saturday night, the first night of his stay, and $190 for Sunday night. He expected more for the money. “There is nothing in the room,” Chew said. “[Just] a TV, a nightstand, and a bed.”
Linda Stucki and Patricia Hutmacher, travelers from Switzerland, were more ambivalent about the hotel. “The location is really good but everything else is… I think it’s clean,” said Stucki. The pair, who booked in February and paid $950 including taxes for six nights, was shocked to hear that some guests reported paying as much as $300 per night, “too much for a room like that,” said Stucki.
“The room is too small to walk around the bed,” said Hutmacher. “If you put your luggage on the floor you can’t walk, ” said her friend. They explained with hand gestures that the foot of the bed was about one foot away from a wall, and the side of the bed was less than three feet from the other wall.
Hutmacher had not noticed the city’s vacate notices. “No, don’t tell me, I don’t want to know,” she said, chuckling. Stucki had noticed the signs but was less concerned, though she added, “If we knew before we would have probably said let’s pay a little more” to stay at a better hotel.
Even as Hoda boasted of busy nights for the hotel, frequented by European and South American tourists, he wasn’t completely confident about the hotel’s future. When asked if he thought the hotel would still be there in five years, he answered, with a slight smile, “These are not my concerns.”