Gale Brewer, council member to the Upper West Side, has made it her mission to investigate what she and others have portrayed as the Wild West of street-level commerce: “dark stores,” the new micro-fulfillment centers run by Gopuff, Gorillas and other grocery-delivery app companies.
“This is an emerging industry,” Brewer said. “It has the potential to displace our anchor stores; our beloved bodegas, delis and grocery stores.”
On Monday, steps away from both a Gorillas and a Gopuff location on the Upper West Side, Brewer released new data — collected by her office this month — on the compliance (or lack thereof) of such companies with local zoning laws and other regulations. She’s been unrelenting since day one of the stores’ takeover of the city last fall, teaming up with other elected officials to glean clarity and urge oversight from the NYC Department of Buildings, of Health and Mental Hygiene, of Consumer and Worker Protection and other agencies.
“These are basically black boxes, quite literally and figuratively, which we know very little about,” State Senator Brad Hoylman said. “Any light that has been shone on this has been through the council member’s work.” Now, after a response from city commissioners at the end of March inviting Brewer to gather more information, it appears the city is paying attention — while Brewer leads the charge.
Backed By Stats
Brewer’s office surveyed 26 micro-fulfillment centers in person in April. Buyk and Fridge No More weren’t included, since they’ve reportedly gone out of business, likely due to the financial strain of Russian sanctions.
Of the companies surveyed, Gorillas was found to have the greatest presence in the city, followed closely by Getir and Gopuff. Only 13 percent of stores allowed customers full access to walk the aisles, and over 82 percent would not accept cash purchases. Across Manhattan, the majority of these delivery-app companies have sprung up in zoning areas designated for “convenience retail.”
“Our delis, our grocery stores, our bodegas are operating in a challenging economic environment,” Brewer said, “and they bear a heavy regulatory burden that the fulfillment centers are not subject to.”
Roughly 39 percent of the stores also have their windows “completely covered,” according to Brewer’s findings, hence the not-so-flattering nickname “dark stores.” “Transparency means that when you walk down the street, you can look into a store and see if something’s going on, and very importantly, the people in the store can look out the window and see if you’re in trouble, too,” said Mark Diller, a community member who’s also part of Community Board 7. “It’s incredibly important to personal safety.”
In late February, Adam Wacenske, Gorillas’ U.S. head of operations, told The Spirit that the company’s “operations and warehouses are structured in a way that aligns with local guidelines, and all warehouses hold valid permits issued by their respective city.” He further explained that in New York, customers can enter Gorillas’ stores to wait in person to pick up their orders.
A Gopuff spokesperson similarly told The Spirit that the company “work[s] diligently to comply with local zoning and permitting obligations.” Gopuff accepts payment via card and cash, has retail locations where New Yorkers can shop in person and creates window displays that follow city regulations, according to the company.
But with more of these delivery-app stores spreading across Manhattan — the number of which has roughly doubled since December, when Brewer released her first map — the council member only sees a greater need for clarity.
“These are basically black boxes, quite literally and figuratively, which we know very little about. Any light that has been shone on this has been through the council member’s work.” State Senator Brad Hoylman