JOKR, an instant grocery delivery company at 301 W. Broadway, held a virtual abutters meeting Monday, Jan. Jan. 10, to discuss its plan to apply for a liquor license and got pushback from some residents and support from others.
The company, which launched in South Boston at the end of November, is looking to add alcohol delivery to its repertoire, as it does in New York. The virtual meeting drew almost 40 people.
“I do not support the delivery of alcohol from this store,” said City Councilor Ed Flynn, who lives near the store and notes no residents have asked him to support this proposal. “I’m not sure if the demand is there for delivering alcohol and liquor in the neighborhood … I know it’s not there. You are going to have a hard time convincing me that residents really want this.”
Donna Brown, representing the South Boston Chamber of Commerce, said, “My big concern is the impact on other small businesses … What you charge can have a negative impact on them and their ability to continue to operate in this community. They’ve been here supporting the community for longer, and you are new in town. My concern is that an additional liquor license on Broadway is going to have a negative impact on those businesses that already exist.”
Dennis Levene, JOKR’s vice president of expansion, said 90 percent of all deliveries – either on foot or via e-bike – are made in 15 minutes or less. JOKR offers a full range of grocery items, from fresh produce, meat, and fish to snack items and pasta, to household products, and even COVID-19 tests.
Customers place their orders on the mobile app for either delivery (vast majority) or in-store pickup. Levene said the workers are all local full-time W-2 employees who get paid fair wages and benefits.
“We are a full service grocery store that’s focused on fresh and local, and alcohol would be an auxiliary component,” Levene said. “While there are liquor stores in the area and some of them offer some form of a delivery service, there is no one-stop shop for all your grocery needs.”
Alcohol would be a complementary component and only 10 percent of JOKR’s product offerings, said Levene, who cited several examples of high praise that JOKR has received from its customers.
“At the end of the day we are a grocery store, but we find there’s a strong demand from our customers” for alcohol, he said.
Attendee Luanne loves the idea of food delivery but is opposed to JOKR delivering alcohol, saying the neighborhood doesn’t need it.
“You’re taking away from the small businesses … I don’t believe that South Boston needs any more liquor licenses within its 3-mile borders.”
Luanne noted this would put more alcohol on our streets and South Boston already has businesses that deliver alcohol.
Another attendee said: “We do not need any more liquor stores. We’ve got three of them right there within a two-block radius. We do not need you to sell liquor or deliver it. We already have delivery service. It’s not wanted.”
Other residents expressed support for the store.
Greg DeBor lives in the building JOKR is in. “Dealing with JOKR has been a pretty good experience so far. They are very responsible. I see them as a responsive neighbor,” he said. “I support people being able to buy whatever they want to buy wherever they can get it and have it delivered to them in any mode as long as it’s appropriately licensed. I’m supportive of having them add [alcohol] to their product mix.”
Mitchell voiced his support, saying it seems like a service he’d be interested in and appreciate. He didn’t think it would detract from other businesses.
Ryan Asselin has ordered from JOKR and has nothing but praise. He sees alcohol delivery as complementary.
Levene said the JOKR staff gets extensive training and safety protocols are in place, noting that alcohol would be delivered only after verifying the ID of the customer and then the ID would be verified again at delivery. He said the company would work with police to prevent deliveries to problematic addresses. And they have technology in place to prohibit deliveries to beaches and parks.
Levene cited New York’s record of more than 5,000 deliveries of orders with alcohol with no issues at all.
Erick Rabin, general counsel at JOKR, said alcohol delivery in New York is a footnote to the business. “We don’t intend for it to be our primary source of revenue in Boston … but it is a meaningful source of revenue,” he said.
The company sees adding alcohol delivery as enabling it to continue to exist and succeed in Boston, Rabin said.
Levene said alcohol helps the viability of the business. ”It is part of our long-term business aspirations to include alcohol delivery,” he said.
Other residents mentioned the busy intersection where JOKR is located, the corner of D Street and West Broadway, and pedestrian safety with the delivery bikes and increased foot traffic.