Bodegas fill New York City streets offering a wide array of products in their tightly compact spaces. Yet, these city standbys are on a road to their demise, according to bodega owners and city officials. Huge spikes in rent leave some bodega owners no choice but to shut down. Others try to renovate to stay competitive while chain stores take over the city.
The number of bodegas that closed this year is relatively small -- only 75 out of 12,000 stores in the city -- and most of the closings were in Upper Manhattan, according to the New York Times. And yet, the trend seems like one that's here to stay.
The decline in bodegas, though small for now, highlights the larger issue of suffering small businesses due to rent instability. Robert Cornegy, a city councilman from Brooklyn, sponsored a bill in late July to protect small-business owners at the end of July. His goal is for landlords to not abuse their power of raising rent, which then forces some commercial businesses to close.
The fear is that the number of closed bodegas will spiral out of control given the competition and vulnerability to rent spikes. In contrast, chain stores are thriving and expanding. The Times reported that in Upper Harlem, an area more precarious for bodegas, chain stores increased by 20 percent last year.
Murphy believes that big chains, like Rite Aid and Duane Reade, threaten the survival of the bodegas. “I go inside, they have yogurt, they have beer,” Murphy told the Times. “I think to myself, 'This is a bodega.'”
In addition to the competition, rent increased an average of 20 percent in Upper Manhattan. The constant threat of increased rent produces uncertainty and anxiety in small business owners, like bodegueros, according to the Real Estate Board of New York. Many are not financially capable of withstanding these spikes.
Some bodegueros sense a changing atmosphere and new product demands. They hope to renovate in order to better accommodate customers. Rent increases are not isolated to small businesses. Many of the residents have had to vacate as well. Now, new, wealthier residents in Upper Manhattan seek healthier products, like more fruits and vegetables, according to bodega owner, William Marte. He told the Times he is trying to obtain a loan from the bank to purchase these healthier products.
The future of this New York institution is uncertain -- bodega fans should enjoy their cheap coffee while it lasts.