In May 2021, grocery delivery company Zapp moved into a small garage, squashed between red brick apartment buildings on a residential street called Fagelstraat in Northwest Amsterdam. Many locals had never heard of dark stores, the mini warehouses grocery apps use to dispatch local deliveries. “We didn’t know exactly what they were doing or what type of business it was,” says local resident Alex (not his real name).
In less than a year, that small Fagelstraat garage has become an extreme example of how dark stores can clash with local neighbors. Alex, who has lived on the street for seven years and requested anonymity to avoid further conflict with riders, says there are now 10 to 15 deliveries each day, and giant lorries regularly block the narrow road. “It’s a 24/7 business,” he says, “so riders are coming in and out late at night and early in the morning. At 2 am, I often have people standing in front of my window, smoking and talking really loudly while they are taking a break.” After a month of this, riders and residents started squaring off as tensions boiled over, Alex says. “There’s been a few instances when I almost got into a fight,” he says. “One [rider] was completely in my face. It was pretty frightening.”
In the past year, the spread of dark stores has rapidly accelerated as grocery delivery apps Gorillas, Getir, Flink, and Zapp compete to dominate the Dutch market. As of January, there were 31 dark stores in Amsterdam alone. The Netherlands appeals to these companies because the country is small, densely populated, and flat, meaning it’s easy for their couriers to operate, says Yara Wiemer, an analyst at research and consulting company Kantar. Demand is also soaring. The number of Dutch consumers using grocery delivery apps more than tripled to 700,000 between 2021 and January 2022, according to Wiemer. But as the four apps jostle for dark store space in residential areas so they can offer faster deliveries, complaints about noise, bikes blocking pavements, and increased traffic have become common across the country.
In Amsterdam, those complaints also accuse dark store staff of intimidation, sexual harassment, and starting physical fights, and the city’s residents are mobilizing to kick delivery apps out of their neighborhoods.
Fagelstraat has become the loudest example of a neighborhood mobilizing against a dark store. The street has drafted a petition and launched its own Instagram page to document the disturbance. A resident called Elisabeth says that one night last fall, when she told staff at the Fagelstraat Zapp dark store to keep the noise down, a person in a uniform—worn by both riders and warehouse staff—told her to stop complaining or he would send his friends around to her apartment. “They didn’t specify what they will do, but it’s obviously very threatening,” says Elisabeth. She describes being followed home several times late at night by people who later went inside Zapp’s dark store and says other female residents have complained about sexual harassment and catcalling.
Steve O’Hear, VP of strategy at Zapp, says the company has a zero-tolerance policy toward sexual harassment and that he was “surprised” to hear about the aggression between residents and drivers at the company’s Fagelstraat dark store. “We have met regularly with residents from the very beginning, and these conversations have largely remained cordial,” he says.