The Pandemic and Package Overflow

The Four Percent

“It’s like Christmas on steroids.”

That’s how the doorman of one Upper East Side co-op recently described the tidal wave of cartons and boxes spilling out of UPS and FedEx trucks and into his building since New Yorkers began sheltering in place in mid-March and began ordering life’s necessities (and, perhaps, a few nonessential items) online.

A rental high-rise at 525 West 52nd Street, which has almost 400 units, is receiving more than 350 packages daily, a third more than in pre-Covid-19 days, said Andrew Schwartz, the vice president of asset management at Taconic Partners, the developer of the building. Meanwhile, Nada Rizk, an associate broker at Brown Harris Stevens, said that her 200-unit co-op on the Upper East Side is getting more than 100 parcels a day, a jump of 30 percent.

The number of packages is manageable, if barely so, at most luxury addresses in the city because many residents have decamped for second homes. “Our building is half full, and it’s still like holiday season in terms of deliveries,” said Michael J. Franco, an associate broker at Compass who’s on the board of his Upper West Side co-op. “If people weren’t gone we’d be snowed under.”

The brown box pileup from Amazon and elsewhere is hardly a new thing for the staffs of residential buildings in New York City. But because of the coronavirus, it’s no longer a simple matter of logging in parcels, then checking with the recipients to see if they’d rather come pick up the package in the lobby or have it delivered to their front or back door.

How much special attention packages get — a wipe-down with disinfectant? a spray of Lysol? a dose of a ultraviolet light? — and how those packages make their way to recipients depends in part on the number of employees on-site. “There’s been upward of a 20 percent staff reduction in many buildings,” said Melissa Cafiero, the director of compliance at Halstead Management Company. Some doormen and porters have taken a leave because they’re worried about contracting the virus or are tending to an ailing family member.

At least one building, Herald Towers, a 26-story rental on West 34th Street has hired extra staff to manage the package room. Small packages are slipped to recipients through a plexiglass window. A staffer carries larger parcels out of the package room and sets them on the floor. Residents can’t retrieve them until the package room attendant is back behind the door.

Fewer staff members may mean that more residents, accustomed to packages being delivered to their door, will have to retrieve them in the lobby or the package room. “Before, packages would be delivered all day. Now it’s twice a day,” Mr. Franco said. “Before, you could say you wanted the packages at your front door or back door. Now they’re left only at the back door.”

The building’s layout also determines the level of intervention. CitySpire, a condominium on West 56th Street, has sufficient exterior space to permit the building staff to spray packages outside and keep them outside for an hour before bringing them indoors and distributing them to residents, said John R. Janangelo, the executive managing director of Douglas Elliman Property Management, whose portfolio includes CitySpire.

Larry McCool, the resident manager of a 260-unit co-op in Midtown East, is planning to build a small enclosure at the back of the lobby where he can treat packages with the UV light-emitting wand he has on order.

Until the device arrives, his staff is spraying parcels with disinfectant, then storing them in the package closet or just outside the closet for 24 hours before distributing them. “But if someone wants the package right away we’ll bring it up right away,” Mr. McCool said. This is a shift from the way the building typically operates. “Before all this happened,” he said referring to the coronavirus, “residents would come downstairs to get their packages. But now, understandably, a lot of people don’t want to be in the lobby.”

For the foreseeable future many buildings are prohibiting the delivery of mattresses, large pieces of furniture “or anything in a large box that would require the help of a third party service or the building staff,” said Ms. Cafiero, of the Halstead Management Company. “We don’t want to put doormen and porters in close proximity to each other or to the residents.”

Complicating things for some buildings is that some absentee residents are busily shopping online but aren’t around to claim their new possessions when they’re delivered. “It’s becoming a problem because they’re filling the package room,” said Mr. Janangelo of Douglas Elliman. “We sent an email to residents telling them ‘if you’re not going to be here you might want to have your orders sent someplace else.’ ”

Deliveries from restaurants have also been rethought. Few buildings are allowing couriers into buildings and elevators to do the handoff to their customers. At Mr. Franco’s co-op on the Upper West Side, the doorman meets the deliveryman outside the building, brings in the meal, places it on a metal shelving unit that’s been set up in the lobby, then calls the resident to come and get it.

“Shareholders have been told to do the whole transaction including tip in advance,” Mr. Franco said. At CitySpire, bags from restaurants are placed on a luggage cart in the lobby. Residents can pick up the meal themselves or have the doorman bring it upstairs.

Of course because of all the challenges posed by the pandemic, buildings have to set priorities. “We wouldn’t want to give residents the false security that every package has been wiped down,” said Robbie Janowitz, the senior vice president at Orsid New York, a property management company. “If buildings have the staff and the supplies, they’ll do it but we don’t have a standard protocol.

“We do have a protocol for cleaning and sanitizing the common areas,” Mr. Janowitz continued. “And that’s our main focus.”

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