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As Prime Day deliveries descend on the city and building staff face insurmountable piles of packages, some experts have called for a rethink of how to manage an unsustainable wave of online orders. Meanwhile, New York concierges are finding solutions for their residents.
A study from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Center of Excellence for Sustainable Urban Freight Systems shows that prior to the pandemic New York averaged more than 1.8 million packages delivered a day (per the MIT Technology Review). As retail stores and other in-person consumer options pivoted to delivery only, the number soared to 3.7 million packages per day, including prepared foods and e-grocery deliveries, which skyrocketed in the pandemic.
And despite New York reopening post-vaccine, consumer habits have largely stuck to online ordering — as of March 2022, the number of packages delivered daily was still 3.6 million. Even in the wake of record inflation and financial losses, Amazon’s Prime Day was expected to garner millions of online orders over the two-day sale period this week, many of which would pile up in New York’s residential building lobbies.
“We get more than 300 to 400 packages a day,” said Carlos Padilla, head concierge at 525 W52nd Street, adding that there has been a steady increase in online ordering from residents, with no slowdown in sight.
Crystal Ann Johnson, a concierge and doorperson at Silver Towers, says that her building’s slow season — usually marked by out of town travel — has all but disappeared in the wake of the pandemic. “Even in the summer, we’re getting a lot of packages,” she said. “People are still working remotely and our package load has definitely gotten heavier.” Anticipating the wave of incoming mail from Prime Day she added, “Next week our load will be extremely heavy — while we get deliveries from UPS, FedEx Ground and FedEx Home, we get the most packages from Amazon.”
The regular busy seasons are also a headache for many front desk staff. Jan Eggers, a doorman and lobby attendant at an Upper East Side building observed: “During the height of the Christmas season, we’re averaging about 200 packages per day per shift — we have two shifts a day, so we’re getting about 400 packages a day for an 18-family apartment building.”
Ardist Brown, a concierge at the Park 10 Co-op at 10 W66th Street, attributes some of the consumer habits to the intense supply-chain disruptions of the early pandemic. “People were stocking up on toilet paper, paper towels, rice — things that they had a fear might run out,” he said.
For Brown and the other concierge staff, the timing of an exponential increase in package delivery coincided with another side effect of the pandemic. “All of the packages we received had to be disinfected, because they were saying COVID could live in cardboard boxes for 72 hours,” said Brown. “Each box had to be hand sprayed, wiped down before it was moved to the package room or to someone’s apartment.”
“In the early days, packages would be left outside,” said Eggers, “and then, fully masked and geared up, we would disinfect the packages, bring them up to the tenants, leave them outside and go back and continue our regular shift on top of everything else. During the early days of the pandemic, the number of packages was incredibly high because nobody was prepared for living in their apartments for as long as they were.”
For the many New Yorkers without concierge building staff, there are other challenges. With increased package delivery has come widespread increased theft, leaving residents to plead for the return of their belongings. The US Postal Service has struggled to deliver mail on time.
The proliferation of large delivery trucks double- and triple-parked on crowded city streets is another complicating factor for some building staff. “We’re telling all these trucks every day, ‘please don’t park there, we have an old lady in a wheelchair that has to leave the building,’ and they’re like, ‘I don’t care, I have my delivery to do on a certain time schedule that’s sent down by the Lord Bezos himself,’” said Eggers. The issue is top of mind for city officials too — yesterday, Borough President Mark Levine proposed a new congestion pricing plan that would restrict delivery trucks from dominating streets.
Another issue impacted by the e-commerce boom? Piles and piles of discarded packaging that outpaces the once-weekly Sanitation Department recycling pickup. “I feel bad for the sanitation guys who have to pick up 10 bags of garbage, and 40 bags of recycling,” said Eggers. Building staff must stay on top of the buildup or face city fines.
In the “new normal” of online ordering, several buildings have taken to creating dedicated spaces and staff roles to fit the new logistical demand. At 525 W52nd, a smart package room created just before the pandemic has proved invaluable. “I think the smart package room has made it easier and automated everything,” said Padilla, who explained that their system automatically scans, tracks, stores and notifies residents of incoming parcels, including reminders to pick up their mail or have it returned. “People don’t want their package going back. it helps keep things moving in and out.”
At Silver Towers, Johnson and team have hired a package attendant to maintain deliveries. Another element that has helped the flow of traffic? “Amazon’s facilities are not far from ours, so a lot of their carriers walk to our building,” she said.
That’s something that many, including Eggers of the Upper East Side, hope will expand citywide as a means of curbing congestion and creating a more environmentally friendly supply chain. “I hope they can figure out a way to bring packages to hubs overnight, and then during the day, have people walk or bike them over — to get trucks off the street,” he said. He hopes that change will come soon, for the sake of all New Yorkers. “What is the true human cost of this instant gratification that we expect as Americans? It’s just not sustainable anymore.”