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Barneys Puts Clothes Before People in Bid for Loading Dock, Locals Say

By Maya Rajamani | March 18, 2016 11:29am | Updated on March 21, 2016 8:56am
 The women's shoes section on the second floor of Barneys New York's downtown flagship store on Seventh Avenue.
The women's shoes section on the second floor of Barneys New York's downtown flagship store on Seventh Avenue.
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Photograph by Scott Frances, courtesy of Barneys New York

CHELSEA — Pristine marble floors and designer goods are of more concern to Barneys New York than neighborhood quality of life in the retailer’s quest for a streetside unloading dock, a group of Chelsea residents maintain.  

More than a dozen West 16th Street and neighboring block residents turned out to protest as the luxury department store presented a plan to convert three parking spots on the street into a loading and unloading zone to Community Board 4’s transportation committee Wednesday evening.

Barneys hopes to use the space to unload the expensive merchandise it sells at its resurrected flagship store at 101 Seventh Ave., general counsel Grace Fu said at the meeting. The designer department store reopened at the site in February, after vacating it in 1997.

Currently, the retailer parks its delivery truck on Seventh Avenue and uses dollies and pallet jacks to transport the wares to a freight entrance on West 16th Street, nearly 75 feet away.

But the store is concerned about safety and liability — as well as the threat of merchandise theft — under the current system because pedestrians walk alongside the dollies, Fu said.

“The goods we’re transporting are very expensive products… and we’re afraid there might be incidents of theft and robbery [as] people start to know we’re transporting these goods 10 to 12 times and maybe more… per day,” she said.

Disgruntled meeting attendees — who were hushed by the board several times as Barneys presented its plan — were unmoved by the retailer’s argument.

When Loehmann’s occupied the space before it shuttered, it transported wares from a truck parked on Seventh Avenue straight into the store through its main entrance in the evening, a resident named Joseph Smith pointed out.

“This is a for-profit company. They can afford [to load on Seventh Avenue],” Smith said, adding that he often has to drive “miles” to look for parking as it is.

West 16th Street Block Association member Roberta Gelb said a loading dock on the residential street would result in traffic congestion, early morning noise and pollution.

“I have asthma, so I have a personal stake in this [issue] of trucks being on the block,” she said.

“People before clothes,” president of the Council of Chelsea Block Associations Bill Borock added. “What’s good for Loehmann’s is good for Barneys.”

A representative for Barneys named Phillip, however, drew the line at comparisons to the now-defunct discount retailer.

“We have a very different brand than Loehmann’s,” he said. “[And] we wanted to make sure we weren’t bringing in dollies through the marble floor that was just dropped in.

“[The floor] would damage easily,” he added.

Several meeting attendees claimed Barneys’ legal counsel previously vowed to limit deliveries to Seventh Avenue, not 16th street, as part of a stipulation to get a liquor license for Freds at Barneys New York restaurant inside the flagship store.

But committee co-chair Christine Berthet pointed out Barneys representatives at CB4’s business licenses and permits committee meeting said they’d been informed by DOT that a Seventh Avenue loading dock wouldn’t be feasible.

“We heard that DOT had denied Seventh Avenue [as a loading space]," Berthet said. "Otherwise we would have insisted on it."

On Thursday, a DOT spokeswoman said the department "has no records of an official request for a truck loading zone at the main entrance to 101 7th Ave. from any entity representing this business.”

Fu offered to reduce the unloading time frame to an hour, from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m., but attendees maintained Barneys had misrepresented itself and reneged on a promise.

“They made a decision based on misrepresentation and we have to deal with it,” Borock said. “Maybe they shouldn’t have even gotten a liquor license if they misrepresented themselves.”

Gelb and others also alluded to years-long problems Chelsea residents had with the original Barneys in the past. In the 1980s, activists protested a proposed Barneys expansion that was set to displace seven Chelsea families from their rent-stabilized apartments.  

“We’re here tonight — and this is just a small group of us — and we are outraged,” Gelb said. “We won’t go back in history to what the last Barneys did to the neighborhood.”

Committee member David Warren said he felt what Barneys had done was “wrong.”

“When they made the agreement with the neighborhood association, they knew they had marble floors,” he said.

The committee passed a motion recommending Barneys use their Seventh Avenue entrance in the evening, as Loehmann’s did in the past.

The issue will go before CB4’s full board on April 6.