CookiesKids.com Seeks $3.4M in Tax Breaks to Move Near FreshDirect Site
PORT MORRIS — For some in the South Bronx, it’s a case of development déjà vu.
An online retailer has applied for subsidies to move its operations from Brooklyn to the South Bronx, just steps from the site where FreshDirect plans to build its controversial new facilities aided by millions of dollars in public benefits.
The company, CookiesKids.com, the online arm of the children's clothing store Cookies, wants $3.4 million in tax benefits to relocate its distribution center from a cramped space in Downtown Brooklyn to a former Postal Service building on East 132nd Street in Port Morris, next door to the Harlem River Yard where FreshDirect is set to move.
CookiesKids.com said in its application to the city that it considered 15 properties in New Jersey, but settled on the 100,000-square-foot facility in Port Morris, which would cost nearly $10.5 million to purchase and renovate, but would allow the company to expand its operations and eventually bring 120 jobs to The Bronx.
But critics, noting their similar complaints about the FreshDirect deal, said the company can afford the upgrade without public support and that the jobs it has promised pay low wages that won’t boost The Bronx’s economy.
“To have FreshDirect and Cookies happen back-to-back is a poignant example of how economic development policies in New York City are not democratic or guarantee good jobs for New Yorkers that need them,” said Bettina Damiani, project director of the government watchdog group, Good Jobs New York.
Cookies sells children’s clothes, furniture and footwear at six stores throughout the city, including three in The Bronx, and employs more than 300 workers. In 2007, the company began selling children’s school uniforms online at CookiesKids.com.
In its subsidy application, CookiesKids.com said the website’s “amazing success” allowed the company to expand its web offerings, increase online sales by 100 percent annually and grow from five to 96 employees in just five years.
Damiani called the proposed subsidy “a mini-version” of the $130 million FreshDirect benefits package and asked if Cookies Kids.com is performing so well, “Why do we need to subsidize them?”
The city approved its part of the FreshDirect subsidy in February, in return for a promise from the online grocery delivery service to invest nearly $113 million to build a new headquarters in the Harlem River Yard.
The deal sparked outrage from some South Bronx residents and elected officials who questioned the size of the package and the potential impact of the company’s delivery truck fleet on the neighborhood around the new facility.
A. Mychal Johnson, a Mott Haven resident and local community board member who opposed the FreshDirect deal, said the type of jobs that Cookies Kids.com has promised to transfer to The Bronx are not the type residents need.
In its application, the company said many of the workers it would move to The Bronx “are minimum wage employees and quite frankly, happy to be getting a job.”
The company’s existing full-time employees would earn $18,200 a year at the Bronx site, while new hires would make $15,000 annually, according to the application.
“We definitely want jobs in our community,” said Johnson. “We just think there is a way to do that that will pay people decent wages.”
Johnson added that he was not aware of any representatives from the city or the company visiting Community Board 1 to explain the proposal, which he called “a matter of respect.”
A director at CookiesKids.com could not immediately be reached after several phone calls and emails for comment.
A spokesman for the New York City Economic Development Corporation, which oversees the agency that approves public benefits, said the agency is committed to helping spur job growth in the city.
It is “imperative that, when necessary, we continue to assist companies looking to retain and create jobs in New York City,” said spokesman Kyle Sklerov.
The agency had planned to address the proposal at a public hearing on June 7, but Sklerov said it will now be taken up on a later date, which has not yet been finalized.