Bodegas Fight Back Against ’15-Minute’ Delivery Apps with Help from CM Marte
While chain stores and rising rents are usually what forces out mom-n-pop shops like bodegas, a new threat has suddenly emerged.
As previously reported, grocers promising fifteen-minute home delivery for their app customers are turning storefronts into mini-warehouses stocked with goods that an algorithm predicts locals will want.
“Dark stores” or “ghost stores,” as they have come to be known, are now proliferating in immigrant, working class neighborhoods to such an extreme, that bodega owners are starting to push back. And they’re asking local electeds for help.
Yesterday, the Save Mom-and-Pop Business Coalition, representing small grocers in all five boroughs, staged a rally outside Stop 1 Deli, doing business on Rivington Street since 1982, and directly across from such a threat.
GoPuff has darkened the storefront of the new, Streit’s-replacing condo development with garish junk food advertising along with its slogan “Get All Your Stuff From GoPuff” in the window signage that blocks the view of what’s behind the storefront windows.
Newly elected Councilmember Chris Marte joined with other elected officials invited to the rally on Sunday and said “darkened storefronts don’t build community, and don’t help small business grow.”
The issue of saving small business hits home for Marte. Not just because he grew up on Rivington Street, but also because his father owned and operated a bodega that succumbed to rising rents brought on by gentrification.
In keeping true to his roots as a community activist (as well as his campaign promises), Marte spoke at the rally vowing to close zoning loopholes that allow darkened storefronts to exist in the first place. The new councilman, along with the coalition of small business owners, also believe that darkened storefronts stifle competition and impede new small businesses from gaining a foothold in the local economy. This, largely because storefronts occupied by this new business model are often backed by venture capital and hedge fund imoney.
Comptroller Brad Lander who recently joined both Marte and Mayor Eric Admas for a presser on small business at Pearl River Mart in Soho said, “We can’t allow bodegas to be displaced by fifteen-minute delivery warehouses that undermine diverse local entrepreneurship, weaken neighborhood ties, put workers and pedestrians at risk while turning their back on our communities.”
Indeed, safety has been another complaint from residents as messengers routinely exit the Gopuff storefront riding their near silent electric bikes down the sidewalk, a practice that is far more dangerous that one might suspect.
Just around the corner from Gopuff, Fridge No More, another fifteen-minute delivery service has occupied the newly renovated storefront at 103 Norfolk. And Gorilla has transformed two Lower East Side stores into warehouses, one on Grand Street and the other adjacent to Trader Joe’s on East 14th Street.
Gopuff and its ilk have been servicing the needs of app customers who want a safe, “non-contact” delivery of goods and foods during the pandemic. But whether it’s isolation, simple laziness, or the need for Pringles at 1am, the lobbyists representing bodegas reminded electeds that they were the ones there staying open as essential workers when the covid pandemic first hit, and have continued to struggle to stay open since.
While this new coalition lobbying for bodegas and small grocers are not opposed to third-party delivery apps, they are seeking aid from elected officials to stop the unfair, and perhaps even illegal, practices of dark stores that could be skirting current zoning regulations.
The regulation of retail storefronts has been on the forefront of many rezonings by the previous de Blasio administration, including the most recent Soho/Noho Rezoning. which favored deregulation of storefront usage under an overly broad idea of “mixed-use.”
While at that press engagement for small business at Pearl River Mart, Mayor Eric Adams made a direct plea to office workers to understand that they are part of the “ecosystem of this city.”
But it remains unclear whether the full return of workers commuting to the office, instead of working remotely, will be enough to sustain a return to the traditional pre-COVID service economy. The current economic ecosystem of the city is evolving into a virtual retail landscape, regardless of how many workers return to the office.