FreshDirect protesters take their beef to Manhattan

Opponents of company’s move to Mott Haven seek broad support for boycott

Over a dozen South Bronx activists took their protest against FreshDirect to the Upper West Side on March 21st, urging Manhattanites to join them in a citywide boycott of the online grocer. 

The activists, representing a group called South Bronx Unite, gathered at Verdi Square on W. 72nd St. to rally support. They argue the food delivery company’s planned move to Mott Haven will add extensive truck traffic to a neighborhood whose residents are already among the city’s most asthma-plagued.

FreshDirect announced in February it will move from its Queens facility to the South Bronx, after the city offered it $130 million in loans and incentives to keep it from moving to New Jersey.

“We want everyone in the city to know that this is a very serious issue that doesn’t just impact the South Bronx,”said Harry Bubbins, director of the Mott Haven group Friends of Brook Park.

“FreshDirect customers are around here, and their customer base needs to be aware of the impact that they are having on us,”said Daniel Wallace, a Mott Haven resident.

Asthma hospitalization rates are higher in the South Bronx than anywhere else in the city, according to a 2008 study conducted by the city’s Department of Health, but Community Board 1 member Mychal Johnson said the tony Upper West Side is equally affected by noise and pollution from Fresh Direct’s vehicles.

“We just want to let Manhattan residents know it’s not just a Bronx issue,” he said.

Ivelyse Andino, who has lived in Mott Haven her whole life, said she suffers from asthma and is worried about pollution from the trucks.

“I’m tired of seeing the city polluting our neighborhoods, doing back-room deals with public money and not considering the community,” she said.

Brian Chidester, who recently moved to Port Morris from Virginia, said he had open-heart surgery in October.

“I don’t want to be breathing the kind of toxins that are going to be coming out of the trucks coming through our area every single day,” he said.

Members of South Bronx Unite protested FreshDirect's move to Mott Haven on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Photo by Alex Robinson

FreshDirect officials have said the company will transition gradually to a fleet of electric trucks, including ten when it opens. In addition, they vow to create up to 1,000 jobs over five years.

Protesters said they are skeptical the company will keep its word. They alluded to an audit released by City Comptroller John Liu’s office on March 19th, which revealed that over 300 companies that received similar tax breaks in 2009 failed to create or retain the jobs they had promised to.

“This is a company that wants to move to our neighborhood without offering any benefit.  We’re going to bear only costs and people elsewhere are going to get all the benefits,” Wallace said.

Opponents argue that adding insult to injury, FreshDirect does not deliver to the South Bronx, but the company has promised that will change.

A representative for FreshDirect handed out promotional flyers for the company at the protest, but he declined to comment.

“Today’s rally against FreshDirect’s decision to expand in New York ignores the positive impact of our public-private partnership with the city,”the flyer read.


Audio slideshow produced by Tom DiChristopher and Alex Robinson