Online grocer caught in local war of loyalties
After briefly collaborating with FreshDirect to distribute its unique Puerto Rican liquor, The Port Morris Distillery has changed its mind and decided that the first order of Pitorro moonshine it sends the company will be the last.
The distillery had first announced it would sell the new product line through FreshDirect on Thursday, Sept. 24, at a public event announcing the collaboration at the FreshDirect facility.
The owners of Port Morris-based Bronx Brewery, which also uses the online grocer to market its products, also attended the event announcing the deal.
But when Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. tweeted a picture of the celebration, outrage ensued. By the next day, social media was abuzz with local activists calling to boycott the businesses.
“Bronx small businesses have a price tag… Port Morris Distillery sells out to FreshDirect,” said one tweet from Welcome2theBronx, a blog written by local activist Ed Garcia Conde.
Residents aired concerns that the local companies they had championed were backing the controversial project that many say further deteriorates environmental health in an area already disproportionately saddled with environmental burdens.
“You knew what this community has advocated and been fighting against and you didn’t ask us what we thought about you teaming with FreshDirect and selling your product,” said Mychal Johnson, co-founder of activist group, South Bronx Unite.
Though John DeSio, director of communications for the borough president, who has championed FreshDirect’s move to Port Morris, said criticism from South Bronx Unite could be expected, he contended, “We have not found that that group is representative of the feelings of the people in the South Bronx.”
A FreshDirect representative was reluctant to discuss the company’s relationship with Port Morris Distillery, except to say, “We had a great event with the Port Morris Distillery on Thursday and continue to deliver their products to our customers. We have no further comment.”
But after South Bronx Unite and other community leaders met with the owner of the distillery on Saturday afternoon to discuss their grievance, the company decided to pull out of the deal.
“We just want to let them know and let everyone know as far as the community that we will always support them no matter what happens, even if no one supports us,” Rafael Barbosa, co-owner of Port Morris Distillery said. He added that the company is family owned and has no desire to grow into a big venture.
Conde said that community activists will, in turn, stand behind businesses that side with their anti-FreshDirect stance.
“They decided to side with us and we can promote them much better than FreshDirect could ever do,” said Conde. “We are the community. It’s definitely a win-win for all of us.”
South Bronx Unite has not yet met with Bronx Brewery, which did not return requests for comment from the Herald. A local backlash against that business has already begun. A local Bike Swap event set for Sunday afternoon was originally scheduled to take place at the Brewery but, Conde said, organizers changed the location to Brook Park.
“We will hate to have to be in front of their business with picket signs,” said Johnson, “because if comes to that we will.”