The Race to Deliver
putting up these gondolas, putting limited
SKUs, and they’re off to the races on their
A spokesperson for Buyk told amNY that
the company has taken over a variety of
empty storefronts, including some that fi led
for bankruptcy last year, like New York &
Beard said looking for space for Gorillas
isn’t necessarily easier than looking for a
grocery store or other retailer. They need
3,000 square feet at minimum, and “at
grade,” or level with the street — no steps
up or down.
One thing that does work to their advantage
is that they’re not looking for the
most attractive, easily-accessible location,
since the stores aren’t open to customers.
“We just need to be in ‘A’ markets, not
necessarily at ‘A’ locations in those markets,”
he said. “So we prefer side streets.”
Many landlords are worried about the
prospect of delivery workers milling around
outside the store, he said, but he hasn’t
found that to be a problem — Gorillas
employees aren’t gig workers like Uber Eats
or Doordash employees, and the dark stores
do have break rooms inside where couriers
can sit down rather than waiting for their
next order outside.
While Gorillas is certainly well-funded,
they do have a cap on how much they’re
willing to spend on a leae, he said. Getting
started during the pandemic, when rents
were lower, gave the company time to get a
“good foothold,” he said, and the company
was getting established before the boom
of quick-commerce apps. Gorillas might
get a little more “bang for their buck,” in
terms of what they can fi t in each location,
he said, since they don’t need to build out
space for aisles and different departments
for customers to peruse.
Manhattan landlords were concerned at
fi rst about leasing space to a brand-new
“Most New York landlords are pretty
sophisticated, and you always have to weigh
risk with any deal you’re looking at,” he
said. “Gorillas, specifi cally, is very well
capitalized by strong, strong VC backers. I
think that helped to give landlords a lot of
confi dence in what these guys were doing.”
Some grocery stores are having the opposite
experience, the Brooklyn-based store
owner said. Finding a large and welcoming
space is “crazy hard to fi nd,” he said, and
the spaces are pricey.
“Landlords would rather cut up a large
space and charge more rent than get an
anchor tenant,” he said. “Supermarkets are,
margins are everything, right? When you’re
paying rent in the millions, it makes a space
look less attractive and appealing.”
Any company choosing to enter a market
where rent is so high is probably catering
to a more affl uent clientele and has higher
profi t margins — he pointed to Whole
Foods, estimating that the luxury grocer
likely has a profi t margin ten points higher
than his store — and their stores in some
of the city’s most expensive neighborhoods.
“The bigger you are, the more buying
power you have, the lower your cost of
goods,” he said. “There’s people who pass
that on, it depends on the business model,
pass it on to the consumer and the community,
or they make a ton of money.”
So far, the well-funded startups have
stuck to Manhattan and wealthier, trendier
neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens –
Downtown Brooklyn and Long Island City.
But Buyk, the most recent entrant to the
grocery delivery game, has grown from six
dark stores in Manhattan upon launching
in September to 20 across four boroughs.
Their locations in the Bronx are the fi rst
foray any of the apps have made into the
Buyk chose to launch in Manhattan because
the borough is “where the real-time
retail concept is needed most,” the spokesperson
said. Their goal has always been to
serve all fi ve boroughs, they said, and they
plan to continue expansion in New York
City before going nationwide.
Like Gorillas, Buyk’s ideal spaces are
between 3,000 and 4,000 square feet, in
a dense neighborhood but not necessarily
on a pedestrian-heavy thoroughfare, and
are preferable in an area where street
infrastructure allows for effi cient delivery
routes. They also consider, of course, the
price and availability of real estate.
They currently operate two dark stores
in the northern part of the Bronx, covering
Kingsbridge Heights, Norwood, Williamsbridge,
Bedford Park, and Allerton, and
plan to open more soon.
Impact on bodegas
Radhamés Rodríguez, president of United
Bodegas of America, said steadily increasing
rents are a huge problem for corner stores,
especially in the last decade. Even successful
stores who need more space to keep up with
demand often can’t afford to expand, he said,
and some store owners who occupy larger
stores split the space and rent part of it out to
another business so they can make the rent.
“You’ll see, a lot of stores outside have
fl ower shops too,” he said. “When you see
that, you’ve got to know that’s because the
rent is high. They do that just to get something
to pay the rent.”
Rodríguez, who has been in the business
for 30 years, said shorter leases offered by
landlords are also a problem for store owners.
Where a ten or 15 year lease used to be
the norm, fi ve years is now the longest most
people can get.
“Before, you used to pay rent – it was
$1,500, $2,000,” he said. “When I used
to pay $2,500, that was a lot. But now, the
minimum is maybe $3,5000.”
Some pay up to $7,000 a month, he said.
He doesn’t blame the landlords — it makes
sense for them to try to get the most of the
space they have.
“The city, maybe they could do something
to help the bodegas,” Rodríguez
said. “Something, let’s say, through tax for
the landlord so they could be more fl exible
when somebody is trying to rent something.
It could help us to do that.”
The fi nal installment in “The Race
to Deliver” will examine labor relations
between the companies behind the grocery
delivery apps and their workforce.
A Buyk courier delivers groceries in the Village.
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