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South Bronx Group Calls For FreshDirect Boycott

By Patrick Wall | March 22, 2012 11:16am
Members of South Bronx United headed to 72nd Street and Broadway in Manhattan on March 21, 2012 to ask residents to boycott FreshDirect.
Members of South Bronx United headed to 72nd Street and Broadway in Manhattan on March 21, 2012 to ask residents to boycott FreshDirect.
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Brian Chidester/South Bronx Unite

SOUTH BRONX — Having failed to stop the city from subsidizing FreshDirect’s move to the Bronx, a group of South Bronx residents and activists is ready to try a new tact: boycott.

Their only problem is, since the online grocer only delivers to three zip codes in the northern Bronx, they must recruit sympathizers in the other boroughs to stop ordering from FreshDirect, which they hope will convince the company to rethink its plan to shift operations from Queens to the Bronx.

So far, the group, which calls itself South Bronx Unite, has launched a website, boycottfreshdirect.com, and an online petition that has garnered more than 115 signatures.

On Wednesday afternoon, members headed to the Upper West Side of Manhattan — which has tangled with the company in the past over its idling trucks — to formally announce the boycott and to try to talk local FreshDirect customers into joining their cause.

The group said they spoke with "hundreds" of Upper West Siders on Wednesday, many of whom took flyers and signed the boycott petition.

“It’s not just a Bronx issue,” said Mychal Johnson, a Mott Haven resident and South Bronx Unite member. “The entire city’s citizens are giving $130 million of their tax money as subsidies.”

After threatening to relocate to New Jersey, FreshDirect set off a bi-state bidding war this year that ended in February when the company agreed to build a new headquarters in the South Bronx and eventually add 960 new employees there, in exchange for $127.8 million in tax breaks and funding from the state, city and the Bronx.

Some South Bronx residents were skeptical of the company’s job promise and fearful of the impact the new facility and truck traffic could have on the local air quality.

Despite these concerns, the city approved its portion of the benefits package, worth about $84 million.

Since the city made its decision in February, South Bronx Unite members have pored over official documents — some of which they obtained through Freedom of Information requests — searching for a legal means to block the move.

Meanwhile, they hatched the idea for the boycott as a way to pressure the company to voluntarily halt the move, which is scheduled for 2015.

Wendy Brawer, who lives in the Lower East Side, added her name to the petition on Tuesday. She said pollution caused by diesel-powered FreshDirect trucks should concern every New Yorker.

“The air quality issue does impact all of us,” said Brawer, who is the founding director of Green Map System, which maps local ecological and cultural resources. Brawer is not a FreshDirect customer, she said, but she supports the boycott.

In response to the planned boycott, FreshDirect released a statement Wednesday that said the company is committed to hiring “a significant number” of Bronx residents at its planned facility, expanding its delivery service to cover the entire borough and switching to all electric and natural gas-powered vehicles within five years.

"FreshDirect prides itself on being a good corporate citizen and looks forward to spurring economic growth and creating jobs in the Bronx,” the statement said, adding, “We will work everyday to win the support of the local community.”

Killian Jordan, a member of Community Board 4’s Parks and Recreation committee who lives in the Concourse Village area, also signed the online petition.

She said she worries the new facility will harm the local environment while offering few benefits to residents. But she added that she doubts many people outside the Bronx will carry out the boycott.

“It’s one of those things that’s really hard to understand if you’re not here and aren’t feeling the direct impact of this,” she said.