In New York, bodegas are slowly disappearing. With the rent increases that come with gentrification, bodega owners find themselves fighting to stay afloat. In 2015, only 75 out of 12,000 bodegas closed. But a Bodega Association of the United States Inc survey found that out of 400 NYC bodegas, about 61 percent faced possible imminent closure. As these vital community shops struggle, two former Google employees want to replace bodegas with glorified vending machines. Paul McDonald and Ashwath Rajan launched Bodega – a pantry that uses a camera and app to check customers out, all without any human interaction.
McDonald and Rajan claim their business will make it convenient for people to shop for snacks, soap, and other household items. But with bodegas literally steps away from people’s homes, many wonder if it’s not more about avoiding the people of color that run these shops, while also taking the parts (ie, the name and the cat it uses for its logo) that are most palatable to them.
With the co-owners hoping to launch about 100,000 of these machines across the country, they may seriously cut into bodegas’ profits. But there’s a lot more to bodegas than just merchandise, and Silicon Valley cannot replicate that. To us – and millions of New Yorkers and people across the United States – bodegas are irreplaceable. Below, the Remezcla estaff weighs in on why these bodegas have a special place in our hearts.
Isabelia Herrera, Music Editor
“I was in the bodega on my block a couple of months ago and a woman in a tubi walked in with her friend. One of the bodega employees, who is Middle Eastern, greeted her in Spanish and said, ‘Hola mi amor.’ She responded, ‘As-salaam-alaikum’ and asked him for a milanesa in Spanish. Then she turned to her friend and said, ‘I’m gonna get the pollo milanesa here and the rice from the Dominicans cause I don’t want habibi rice.’ It was the most beautiful New York moment I’ve experienced in a long time.”
Andrea Gompf, Editor-in-Chief
“One day in 2014 I walked into my bodega and they were blasting a merengue típico cover of “CoCo” and turning up and my soul ascended to heaven.”
Itzel Alejandra Martinez, Photo Editor
“At my bodega, I get to compare different ways of saying Spanish words with the local Dominicans. For example, straw for Mexicans is popotes, and for Dominicans, it’s calimete. Plus you can buy loosies, one solo pack of Emergen-C, pantyhose, Hot Cheetos and a candle pa’ las buenas energias, all in one magical place!” ?
Joel Moya, Associate Music Editor & Artist Relations
“Bodegeros are extended family. Do you need to leave your home keys for someone to pick up? Leave it at the Bodega. Also, if Robitussin is not cutting it, get the Jarabe Rompepecho (smuggled from DR) at your local bodega.”
Patty Shaw-Ramirez, Integrated Marketing Manager
“It’s a judgement-free zone. From early – questionably early – morning beer runs, to the ever-so-dependable $2 cheese selection, to the seemingly unending rolls of quarters for laundry and never judging me after I’ve fought with them about their cheese-to-roll ratio, Pat and the rest of his crew are essential to my NYC experience.”
Harper Yi, Associate Manager of Integrated Marketing
“Bodega cats are the one constant source of affection in my life.”
Luis Paez-Pumar, Sports Editor
“Better chip choices, cheapest beer in my area, hangover cures, and they let credit card minimums slide for me.”
Yara Simón, Trending Editor
“Mostly, I’m into bodegas because of the delicious chopped cheese. But it’s also the place I most frequent. I’m always greeted warmly, and in a city that isn’t known for kindness, that matters.”
Pamela Reynoso, Social Media Manager
“Some of my best friends are my local bodega guys, and the flower/plant vendors outside of them. How am I supposed to get deli flowers and some daily human interaction if not at my local bodega? My bodeguero is the one person in my life who knows my daily needs, can send shit to my mom in the DR, has all Dominican products you can’t get elsewhere, and carries the craft beers I drink alone on my lonely Friday nights.
“Bodegas are more than just bodegas for us lonely New Yorkers; it’s the one place that helps us all connect. Whether they are Dominican or Muslims, bodegueros transcend nationalities.”