New York’s Commercial Property Market Comes Storming Back

The scent in the workshop where Brian Christopher makes his wooden furniture is at once inviting and entirely unfamiliar. “It’s a nice mix between sawdust, which I can’t even smell anymore,” Mr. Christopher explained, “and then the bakery across the hall — they’re constantly cooking croissants.” American oak shavings on the floor of Mr. Christopher’s one-man business, Bicyclette, and pastries in the oven across the hall at an artisanal bakery, Machine Shop Boulangerie, lend a certain aromatic ambience to the fourth floor of a former vocational high school in South Philadelphia known as Bok.

Mr. Christopher used to live in Chelsea and work in Hoboken before migrating to Philadelphia, where he rented an apartment for half the price and watched his business blossom at Bok, a full-square-block complex that bustles with all manner of commercial enterprises, among them letterpressers and photographers, a hatmaker and a boxing school. Prospective tenants from New York are calling about moving into the retrofitted school, according to the leasing manager. And the Italian sportswear company Diadora recently signed a contract to relocate its North American headquarters there from Midtown Manhattan. “One thing I like about Philly is it’s a bit slower paced,” Mr. Christopher said. “You do feel like you can slow down, and enjoy yourself a bit more.”

This New York-Philadelphia migration, fueled by a quest for cheaper living, has long existed. But this is not just the same story of young artisans priced out of Chelsea. There’s another kind of New York transplant spreading out into Philadelphia.

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