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Whole Foods Deliveries Leave Willamsburg Neighbors Sleep Starved, They Say

By Gwynne Hogan | January 20, 2017 11:16am
 Williamsburg residents along North 4th Street said Whole Foods is ruining their sleep.
Williamsburg residents along North 4th Street said Whole Foods is ruining their sleep.
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WILLIAMSBURG — "America's Healthiest Grocery Store" is being re-branded the nation's noisiest by its Williamsburg neighbors.

People living near the Bedford Avenue Whole Foods that opened last summer say it is destroying their good night's sleep with an endless racket.

From honking horns from late night delivery trucks, beeping forklifts and bangs and rattles of trash pickups and unloading trucks, neighbors say they aren't getting their health expert-recommended amount of rest.

While residents of North 4th Street have tried for months to negotiate with Whole Foods' management directly, going back and forth in emails and holding meetings between store representatives and around 40 sleep-starved neighbors, organizers said more than six months have passed and little has changed.

"Three or four nights a week I get woken up at least once in the middle of the night by truck horns honking... they're like the loudest thing I've ever heard," said Cullen MacDonald, 28, who's lived on the block since 2014. 

"Once you get woken up it's the forklift beeping, the truest sense of torture. When I die, hell is just hearing forklifts beeping."

MacDonald, along with a group of other residents on North 4th Street, has decided to take their fight against Whole Food by launching a Facebook Pagehurling angry tweets when the noise wakes them up, logging 311 complaints and posting YouTube videos.

Their campaign has united residents who've lived on the block for decades with newcomers.

"They said they were gonna work with us. But they haven't," said 56-year-old Orlando Colón who grew up on North 4th Street and who has started posting videos on YouTube of the loud Whole Foods deliveries when he can't sleep. 

"We understand they need to run a business and that they're not going to move. We just need a little cooperation from them," Colón said.

As construction at the Whole Foods building neared completion last year, residents of North 4th Street were shocked to see the store's loading bay being constructed on their narrow, completely residential block, instead of on the Berry Avenue side of the store that's a much wider street and more industrial.

"The day before it opened it was like a parade outside all night long," MacDonald said.

The block association, headed by resident Marc Auerbach, 46, has been writing to Whole Foods for months urging the company to change its delivery hours.

Whole Foods has responded that they participate in a Department of Transportation program to do late night deliveries as a way to reduce truck traffic and air pollution.

But after some back and forth, the company said it might consider cutting out overnight deliveries — with caveats. 

"We are prepared and willing to have a trial of shifting our store’s deliveries from overnight to daytime hours of 6AM – 11PM as of Monday October 24th 2016," store manager Sam Baris wrote in October email.

"There may be some exceptions to that, however, as we cannot control traffic or the delivery drivers. There may also be rare times where our delivery volume is so high we do not believe it will be physically possible to receive during daytime hours."

As far as the neighbors know, that trial period never began. 

Unsatisfied with Whole Food's response, the group drafted a Dec. 15 letter to Whole Foods demanding the company restrict its deliveries to between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., complete with a snarky "Whole Lives" logo.

On Jan. 2 they got another unsatisfying response, Auerbach said. 

"We have heard your complaints and we want to be good neighbors and community partners.  However, we cannot limit our hours between 7 am and 10 pm due to our volume of vendors in combination with elements outside of our control," according to the letter written by Jay Paul Warren, a Whole Foods lawyer.

"The store is beginning the process of stopping overnight deliveries after 11 p.m. and should be able to have that in place shortly," the letter reads.

But Auerbach pointed out that the company doesn't say when overnight deliveries will stop or what time in the morning they will start back up again.

Two weeks after they got the latest email and six months after they started complaining to Whole Foods, the company still hasn't made changes.

"It still hasn't stopped. For every hour they're open at night my kids don't sleep. No one sleeps on my block," Auerbach said.

"I'll do whatever it takes to be a pain in the ass and get them to amend the problem. I'm not going to roll over.

"Every single night there's a disturbance," he said. "It shakes you in your bed."

Edward Timbers, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection which oversees the city's noise code, said it hadn't been referred the 311 complaints from the NYPD.

Timbers said his agency would send over inspectors to see if the deliveries were in violation of the city's noise code.

A spokesperson for Whole Foods didn't respond to a request for comment.