Grocery apps try to shed NYC hubs’ ‘crackhouse’ reputation

Grocery delivery apps are looking to satisfy angry neighbors and New York City council members by rebranding their barebones and potentially illegal delivery hubs as high-tech retail locations that are open to the public.

As the legion of apps — including Gopuff, Getir, Gorillas and Jokr — have launched in the five boroughs over the past year, they’ve gobbled up space for dark stores that was previously occupied by delis and boutiques, turning the spaces into “dark stores” that house groceries and are closed to the public.

Some local politicos have accused the apps of violating zoning laws by running warehouses out of properties zoned for retail, while local residents have griped about constant E-bike traffic, as well as workers loitering and smoking outside delivery hubs at all hours of the day.

“Rapid grocery delivery companies have come to realize that a dark store was nothing more than the modern day version of a crackhouse,” Brittain Ladd, a retail consultant who works with rapid delivery companies, told The Post. “They had the ugly covering over the window, people couldn’t go inside if they didn’t work there. It attracted people who would hang out and there were a number of complaints about the noise and the traffic.” 

In some instances, The Post observed the floors of delivery hubs littered with trash. In others, delivery workers were seen riding E-bikes and scooters at lightning-fast speeds on city sidewalks. Even the cleanest and most well-organized hubs seem to feature fluorescent lighting and threadbare decor.

“Rapid grocery delivery companies have come to realize that a dark store was nothing more than the modern day version of a crackhouse,” retail consultant Brittain Ladd told The Post.
William Farrington
Gorillas Brooklyn
Dark stores such as this Gorillas location in Brooklyn are now open for in-person shopping.
Gabriella Bass

But now, in an apparent effort to satisfy both zoning laws and peeved neighbors, many of the delivery apps, including Getir, Gopuff and Gorillas, have started opening up their stores to walk-in customers. 

Getir delivery hubs across the city added “Walk-ins welcome” signs to their storefronts in March. Gorillas hubs also removed film from their windows and added “in store pick-up!” signs to their stores in March, as first reported by The Post. GoPuff told The Post its stores have always welcomed walk-in customers, but some of its stores did not have posted “walk-in” hours until recently. Jokr did not respond to a request for comment on whether it accepts walk-ins or plans to add them.

Critics counter that the startups’ in-store pickup signs amount to little more than an attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of concerned city council members like Gale Brewer and Christopher Marte, who have both urged city agencies to investigate whether the apps are violating zoning laws.

Even the cleanest delivery hubs feature flourescent lighting and barebones decor.
Gabriella Bass

That idea is bolstered by the fact that the Getir, Gorillas and GoPuff apps do not appear to give users the option of selecting in-store pickup, instead offering delivery only.

“While currently customers can walk in and place orders for in-store pickup, we recognize that the process isn’t as streamlined as we’d like it to be,” Getir founder Nazim Salur told The Post. “We are always working to improve our store operations, including enhancing the in-store experience. We expect these changes to be completed in the near future.”

“We are here for the long-term and look forward to working with city officials and community leaders, as we create good jobs throughout New York City and provide a time-saving service that New Yorkers have already started to embrace,” Salur added.

Gorillas declined to comment. Jokr did not respond to requests for comment.

Many of the stores that are open to the public also flout city rules requiring stores to accept cash and include clearly labeled prices on all items, among other regulations, according to council member Brewer.

“You have to have labels on the cereal,” Brewer fumed to The Post. “That’s the law.” 

Gopuff has also opened some locations for in-person shopping in what critics say is an effort to dodge city zoning laws.
William Farrington
Dark stores
Neighbors have complained about E-bike traffic.
Gabriella Bass

Ladd, the retail consultant, said that delivery apps must work to make their stores “as inviting as possible” in an effort both to appease the city council and to satisfy neighbors, who may then begin to view the stores as neighborhood establishments rather than bleak eyesores.

“What I told Getir and what I told Gorillas is you have to change the perception of rapid grocery delivery from being something mysterious to being something inviting,” Ladd said.

But Ladd added that many of the startups have been reluctant to let outsiders into their stores because they “falsely believed they needed to keep what they did in those stores secret.”

“I’ve told all of them: none of you have a competitive advantage in this,” he said. “You all do the same thing.”

Fridge No More and Buyk, two other rapid delivery startups that folded in March, as exclusively reported by The Post, did not have signs welcoming customers into their stores.

2022-04-17 19:23:00