As essential part of living in New York is stopping by your local bodega for a breakfast sandwich, late-night snack or even a six pack.
But the future of that bodega experience may be threatened by a new innovation – which borrowed the same name – started by two former Google employees.
The new concept “Bodega” was unveiled in a Fast Company article on Wednesday, and the announcement quickly drew outrage from New Yorkers who don’t want to give up their corner stores and from those who work to protect local shop owners that have vowed to fight the new innovation if it tries to tread on their turf in the city.
The Bodega company involves setting up “5-foot-wide pantry boxes filled with nonperishable items you might pick up at a convenience store,” Fast Company reported.
An app then allows you to unlock the box and cameras “powered with computer vision” will see what snack you’ve grabbed and automatically charge your credit card. The Bodega boxes could be placed in gyms, offices and apartment lobbies.
“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,” Paul McDonald, a previous Google product manager and co-founder of Bodega, along with Ashwath Rajan, told Fast Company.
That intention doesn’t sit well with Frank Garcia, outgoing chairman of the New York state coalition of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Garcia is now chairman of all state chambers nationally, including Puerto Rico, for which he represents thousands of bodega owners and other Latino businesses.
“We are against it,” he told Metro. “It’s a disgrace to the name of bodegas.”
Garcia’s grandfather was a bodega owner and the president of the first Latin Grocery Association, now called the Bodega Association of New York.
Bodega owners in New York are already facing an uncertain future. They’re going out of business, Garcia said, because of costs including rent, licenses, insurance and fines and the juggling of business mandates, inspections and so on. All things which the Bodega boxes would not have to handle, he said.
But mostly, to Garcia, it’s a culture issue.
“Why are you using the Hispanic name – why are you doing that?” he said. “My grandfather must be rolling over in his grave right now. When a bunch of Puerto Ricans starting calling [their stores] 'bodegas,' they didn’t intend them to be vending machines. The intention was to support immigrants.”
Bodegas are more than just stores on a city block. They’re cultural institutions, Garcia said, and he promised that he will work to ensure that the Bodega boxes do not come into New York.
“I feel that this is going to be a David and Goliath [situation], and we’re going to fight it,” he said.
Fifty Bodega box locations were unveiled Wednesday on the West Coast, according to Fast Company. None are in New York yet, but the founders said they plan to go national soon.
New Yorkers and others who frequent bodegas seem to have Garcia’s back. Many took to Twitter to air their grievances about the Bodega box concept and show their support for their local bodega.
Dear Ashwath Rajan & Paul McDonald,— Maximilian Hess (@zakavkaza) September 13, 2017
You may have found the most direct way to make every New Yorker hate you.
I would eat off the floor of the sketchiest bodega in NYC before I bought something from some tech dipshit's cabinet.— Bryan (@StuckInTheIV) September 13, 2017
my bodega owners are yemeni immigrants and the bodega not only affords them a life in new york but also allows them to send money back home— Jessica Roy (@JessicaKRoy) September 13, 2017
Bodegas solve/mitigate a real problem: food deserts. This evil techbro idea will cater to those who don't suffer from it & harm those who do— Spencer Ackerman (@attackerman) September 13, 2017
Bodegas are legit part of the community. They know your mom. They give credit to people the banks won't touch. Who wants to disrupt that?— Queen Antifa (@frazierapproves) September 13, 2017
Then to actually NAME it "Bodega" after the exact thing they're trying to gentrify & put out of business? Wow. Such disrespect— Persephone (@ASamantha) September 13, 2017
In a response to the internet's outburst, McDonald wrote a blog post on Bodega's website on Wednesday.
"Today we announced Bodega, and while we were hoping for a big response, the reaction that we got this morning certainly wasn’t what we expected," the post began. In it, McDonald addresses the backlash to the idea that his startup will put mom and pop stores out of business and that the name is a form of appropriation.
"Challenging the urban corner store is not and has never been our goal," McDonald writes. "We want to bring commerce to places where commerce currently doesn’t exist. Rather than take away jobs, we hope Bodega will help create them."
McDonald said that the startup did its "homework" ahead of landing on its name, include survey work about "any potential offense it might cause."
"Despite our best intentions and our admiration for traditional bodegas, we clearly hit a nerve this morning. And we apologize to anyone we’ve offended," McDonald wrote. "Rather than disrespect to traditional corner stores — or worse yet, a threat — we intended only admiration. We commit to reviewing the feedback and understanding the reactions from today."