2 Ex-Google Employees Are Trying to Replace Bodegas With Vending Machines And People Are Outraged

Lead Photo: Creative Commons "Boston Corner Shop” by Elvis Batiz is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Creative Commons "Boston Corner Shop” by Elvis Batiz is licensed under CC BY 2.0
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Bodegas are the heart of many Latino communities. In New York, in particular, immigrants have successfully created a meaningful space for everyone, regardless of ethnicity and race. For the millions who call New York City home, the relationship with their corner bodega is special and unwavering; after all, your local bodega knows just how you like your chopped cheese. For many transplants, the bond they form with bodega employees is one of their first and most meaningful relationships in the city. And for some inexplicable reason, two former Google employees want to replace bodegas with glorified vending machines.

Paul McDonald and Ashwath Rajan are launching a business called Bodega, according to Fast Company. The company wants to set up 100,000 five-foot wide vending machines across the country. To unlock the pantry, users will have to use an app. A camera tracks what the user has chosen and automatically charges their credit card.

“The vision here is much bigger than the box itself,” McDonald told Fast Company. “Eventually, centralized shopping locations won’t be necessary, because there will be 100,000 Bodegas spread out, with one always 100 feet away from you.”

McDonald and Rajan, who secured funding from several investors, began testing the pantries in the Bay Area. Today, they launched 50 pantries in the West Coast. Before 2018 ends, they hope to have more than a thousand machines. The products inside the machine vary depending on region.

From the name of the store to the cat-emblazoned logos (bodegas are well known for housing cats), everything about this company is intentionally taken from what immigrants have built. Fast Company predicts that if the venture takes off, it could put a lot of bodega owners – the same community it is stealing from – out of business. When asked if he thought the name would come off as insensitive, McDonald said, “I’m not particularly concerned about it. We did surveys in the Latin American community to understand if they felt the name was a misappropriation of that term or had negative connotations, and 97 percent said ‘no.’ It’s a simple name and I think it works.”

But Frank Garcia, the chairman of the New York State Coalition of Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, disagrees. “To me, it is offensive for people who are not Hispanic to use the name ‘bodega,’ to make a quick buck,” Garcia said. “It’s disrespecting all the mom-and-pop bodega owners that started these businesses in the ’60s and ’70s… Bodegas can’t compete with this technology, because it is so much more expensive to have a brick-and-mortar store than a small machine. To compete with bodegas and also use the ‘bodega’ name is unbelievably disrespectful.”

And it seems like many on the internet are more in line with Garcia. As the word trends on Twitter, many are speaking out against Bodega: