Opinion: Fresh Direct & NYC: A Not So Wonderful Life

This month , Empire State Development will decide whether or not to grant Fresh Direct a $10 Million-dollar loan to assist in its move from Queens to the Bronx. This move will devastate small businesses and bring an extremely negative environmental impact to New Yorkers living in the area.

The New York Association of Grocery Stores (NYAGS) is a coalition of local New York City grocers fighting to stay alive as special interest and big chains continue to encroach on the businesses our families have maintained for decades.

During this holiday season, we at NYAGS hope New Yorkers and especially the ESD will consider the importance of traditional small business in New York City. That’s why we’ve put together the following tale based on Frank Capra’s “Its A Wonderful Life” to illustrate the importance of New York City’s small business  and what life could be like if the ESD follows though with their plan.

Every family-owned small business in New York City brings value, growth and endless possibilities for the hard working people that run them. They train young people how to work for a living, they feed families, they bring personal and human investment to our neighborhoods. From our businesses and families to yours – we at NYAGS wish you very happy holidays and a promising and successful new year.

A Not So Wonderful Life

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Voice From Above: Hello Joseph. Trouble?

Joseph: Looks like we’ll have to send someone down. A lot of people asking for help now that Empire State Development is set to vote on FreshDirect’s government subsidized relocation from Queens to the South Bronx.

Voice From Above: ESD and FreshDirect? Ah yes the $10 million loan. We’ll have to send someone down immediately. We’ll send for Clarence.

Clarence: You sent for me, Sir?

Voice From Above: Yes Clarence. A group down on Earth needs our help.

Clarence: Are they sick?

Voice From Above: No just…misguided. Misinformed. Empire State Development is soon going to vote on giving a considerable sum of money to FreshDirect without conducting a recent environmental impact statement. You see Clarence, FreshDirect submitted one that was 22 years old and meant for an entirely different project.

Clarence: Dear. dear.

Voice From Above: You will get acquainted with Empire State Development and if you do a good job with ESD…well you know…

Clarence: I’ve come to save you so you don’t go through with it.

ESD: Go through with what?

Clarence: Why giving all those millions of dollars to FreshDirect. You think giving FreshDirect all that money would make people happy? Wait a minute. That’s an idea. That’ll do it alright. ESD, I am going to grant you your wish. Let’s see what happens after you vote and give FreshDirect that $10 million loan package.

ESD: What’s happening here? Why are there so many trucks on the streets. Why, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many trucks on the streets of New York. And why are the sidewalks empty? Empty! This is the city that never sleeps. Is everybody sleeping? Except for the truck drivers apparently? Must be really early. Or really late. (Cough Cough). Only trucks. There are so many trucks. What’s with all the trucks?

Clarence: Well you see ESD, when you voted to give FreshDirect all that money to set up its 500,00 square foot facility in the Bronx, the company needed…more trucks. Even more trucks than it had when it was located in Queens. Now instead of tying up traffic in Queens and its surrounding areas, taking away from local businesses in and around the city, and contributing to the air pollution in just about every corner of New York, FreshDirect received even more financial incentive to do all that – and then some, except in a different borough. If that does’t get you feeling all warm, fuzzy…and weezy, then I don’t know what does.

ESD: (Cough cough) I can’t stop coughing. What’s going on here? And my eyes are watering a flood. What’s going on?

Clarence: Oh, ESD. FreshDirect is a business which relies on a “hybrid,” albeit, diesel-spewing fleet of high emissions vehicles, operating out of a low-income neighborhood in order to make thousands of deliveries to high-income neighborhoods. Of course, this is New York where idling traffic and congestion are a fact of life. Add to that all those additional FreshDirect trucks that make more than a thousand trips per day, and no matter how “green” FreshDirect claims its fleet is, the fact is that most of the other vehicles idling and emitting fumes are not.

The company, by the way, was still five years away from an all electric fleet when you gave them all that money. But it must be a relief to know that it had purchased its first ten electric trucks already.

Oh and another thing: the promise of an all electric fleet was, as you know, a non-binding memorandum for the project.

ESD: Just wait a minute, bub! FreshDirect is a corporation that goes against the corporation grain, using words like “community,” “green,” “environmentally-friendly” and “socially-conscious” on its website.

Clarence: Ah, yes. FreshDirect does talk about commitment to community – a wonderful idea. But I am afraid it fails to mention how local community businesses suffer severe financial loss and sometimes ruin by encouraging consumers to order from its facility miles and miles away instead of patronizing their local groceries and delis. If it really wanted to encourage all those wonderful ideas it touts on its website, perhaps FreshDirect ought to have encouraged people to walk – arguably the greenest activity on the planet – to their local grocery stores and delis to support their local neighborhood grocers’ businesses, and by extension, local economies.

In fact it would also do well for the city. get people out of their house and reacquainted with the world. their neighbors. Their friends. But all that’s disappearing now.

ESD: Is that why I am noticing all those shuttered delis and grocery stores? Have they been abandoned? Speaking of which, boy am I getting hungry.

Clarence: Well, I am afraid that’s too bad. Maybe if you get to a computer you can get something delivered to you in an hour or so. Seeing as how FreshDirect has forced more than a few local merchants out of business, you’d be hard pressed to find yourself a fine sandwich around here.

ESD: How come I don’t see anybody? Where is everyone? It feels so…lonely. Depressing. Scary. New York is supposed to be one of the busiest bustling places on Earth.

Clarence: Not anymore, I’m afraid. Nobody leaves their home anymore. They don’t need to. Everything they need comes right to their door. The city has become a run-down decrepit town. Nobody to talk to. Remember how it used to be? You just walked out your front door and it seemed the world was there to greet you?

ESD: Cough cough

ESD: What’s happening here?

ESD: Where are we now Clarence?

Clarence: Well, can’t you tell?

ESD: Well, I guess it’s a hospital and its filled with people. So many people. It seems all the people that I haven’t been seeing on the streets are here. What’s wrong that so many people are here? Is there some sort epidemic? I’ve never seen so many people milling about a hospital. Surely they can’t all be sick?

Clarence: Oh but they are I’m afraid – from Asthma-related illnesses. You see, when you voted to give FreshDirect all that money, it was so that it could set up its business in the adjacent low-income residential area of Motts Haven/Port Morris. It was assumed that the neighborhood would actually benefit from its proximity to this allegedly socially conscious company here in Harlem River Yards with all of its “green” trucks. You thought the company would fit in nicely next to a neighborhood that, coincidentally, is dubbed “Asthma Alley” – because it boasts an unusually high rate of asthma-related hospitalizations. But now, I’m afraid, the rate has climbed even higher. All those added high-emissions vehicles, you know.

ESD: So where are all the benefits that were supposed to be coming out of FreshDirect’s relocation?

Clarence: Well, I believe the term “job creation” was mentioned. But, you see ESD, there was no mandate to actually create jobs for the project. FreshDirect did say, however, that it would be offering local living wage. Several posted openings even advertised for $8.00 an hour. Why at those wages, employees are still eligible for food stamps and welfare benefits. Talk about perks.

As for the constitutional requirement that the land being used on the Harlem River Yards waterfront must provide a public benefit…well, that “requirement” had been conveniently scrapped. An action that seems to run contrary to fair business practices and seems to be awfully inconsistent with efforts protect the waterfront, especially after Hurricane Sandy. But you know all this already.

ESD: Help me Clarence! Get me back! I want to go back! I want to go back! I want to pick my own produce. I want to smell the fresh baked bread in the bakery section! I want to tap on the watermelons to test for ripeness! I want to bump into my grouchy neighbors while running to catch the A train! I want to check my strawberries for mold before I buy them!

ESD: What? Wha…I’m back. Woohoo! I’m back! Good day to you, Mr. Street Vendor. Your oranges are looking exquisite today…Will you look at that sandwich that guy’s eating? I’m gonna get me one of those. NOW! Right now! Hey, my coughing…my weezing…gone! Streets are a little less congested, but the sidewalks are just dripping with the great people of this city. Man I love this town. I never want it to change!

Kid: Hey mister! Mister, didja see that? All those people walking into that deli? They say every time a customer walks into a brick and mortar business, the economy grows a little bigger…

# # #

Want to help? You can by contacting Empire State Development:

633 Third Avenue – 31st Floor

New York, NY 10017

(212) 803-3130

(212) 803-3131 Fax

Email: nys-nyc@esd.ny.gov



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