Opponents of Industry City fail to see small businesses opportunity

While opponents of Industry City like to decry the 16-building business incubator complex on the Sunset Park waterfront, as corporate greed and only interested in “luxury retail,” two small businesses operating out of the 6 million square feet complex have pivoted to food distribution to help battle against the city’s hunger crisis, exacerbated by COVID-19.

Tamecca Seril heads up a consulting firm, Element9, that partners with GetFoodNYC to prepare roughly 45,000 meals per week and deliver them directly to households in need. Element9 is a “shelf-stable” box maker that creates meals using canned goods or foods on the shelf. 

“Industry City was a really good fit for us because I think what people fail to realize is how difficult it is to find the right industrial spaces,” said Seril. “As an emergency contract provider and [Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises] M/WBE, we need to be nimble and agile. We needed a turnkey operation meaning freight elevators and loading docks. That may sound trivial to some, but for us that was truly an amenity.”

Seril established her company in 2001, and has been coming up with solutions to food security for years. “Several years ago when we were having the coalition for the improvement of Bedford-Stuyvesant, we started doing food security work, over the years that work that we initially did informs our work now,” said Seril.

Seril bid on the partnership with GetFoodNYC program, and were selected in May. “It also included the [New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission] TLC. Since they were out of work they were utilized to be the last-mile delivery. And vendors like us were required to fill orders,” said Seril.

A worker at Element9 fill food orders. Contributed photo.

Traditional yellow and green cabs were already a hurting market because of predatory medallion prices and lenders in cities like New York and Chicago, plus a competitive landscape and restrictions. The detrimental COVID-19 outbreak with the city’s lockdown and social distancing norms now firmly in place have only furthered the market’s slowdown.

“The TLC was there at like four in the morning fueling up,” said Seril. She said for 15 blocks taxis were visibly lined up waiting to fill orders for food pantries and other organizations five days a week.

“I also applaud the city for thinking about diversity, there were kosher and halal meals. They wanted Pan-Asian, Latin vendors, those were all things that went into consideration for us to build our menus,” said Seril. 

The city contract for Element9, said Seril, was first managed by the Department of Sanitation (DSNY) but suffered cuts because of the city’s budgeting crisis. The sanitation commissioner has since stepped down.

Seril’s neighbor, Lemons & Olives restaurant, started as a farm-to-table catering company in 2015 that specialized in providing food at fashion photoshoots and high-end events. They also switched to partnering with a local organization, serving fresh foods, and have since grown to providing 18,000 meals per day to those who are most vulnerable to the virus. 

Seril couldn’t comment on if her business was impacted by the rezoning debate at the time. 

The rezoning of Industry City has been “pulled” by CEO Andrew Kimball as of September 22, who couldn’t get the mega project greenlit by community leaders.  

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