As you may know, the industry of bodegas and mom-and-pop corner shops has been on a steady decline in face of the rising costs of rent and the competition of grocery delivery companies like FreshDirect. So, naturally, a pair of Silicon Valley goobers have taken it upon themselves to really put a nail in the coffin of the only beautiful thing left in this world with a flashy new concept called, get this, Bodega.
The company unoriginally named after actual bodegas was founded by Paul McDonald and Ashwath Rajan, two Google vets. What does the company unoriginally named after actual bodegas actually do? According to a profile in Fast Company:
Bodega sets up five-foot-wide pantry boxes filled with non-perishable items you might pick up at a convenience store. An app will allow you to unlock the box and cameras powered with computer vision will register what you’ve picked up, automatically charging your credit card. The entire process happens without a person actually manning the “store.”
Uh first, this exists. It’s called a vending machine. These dudes stuck a computer on a vending machine and got some dumb rich people to give them money for it. Congratulations. Next.
“The vision here is much bigger than the box itself,” McDonald says.
God, McDonald and Rajan definitely earnestly beseeched their audience of investors to “think outside the box,” didn’t they?
“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.”
Okay first of all, if you’re in a city like New York, there are already bodegas and/or corner stores 100 feet away from you. But again, congratulations for figuring out that not having to pay rent or employees is cheaper, and that you can obtain a ton of consumer data from people if you keep track of what shit they purchase in your fancy vending machine unoriginally named after actual bodegas.
And just in case you think that perhaps this 1997 Damon/Affleck team of Silicon Valley put some thought into how stealing the Spanish word and concept could constitute appropriation, while targeting the customers of actual bodega and corner shop owners, they don’t seem too pressed:
I asked McDonald point-blank about whether he’s worried that the name Bodega might come off as culturally insensitive. Not really. “I’m not particularly concerned about it,” he says. “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% said ‘no’. It’s a simple name and I think it works.”
I’d love to take a look at that survey data. Something tells me they did not consult, say, the New York State Coalition of Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, because according to the article, the chairman of the coalition, Frank Garcia, is not pleased at all.
“To me, it is offensive for people who are not Hispanic to use the name ‘bodega,’ to make a quick buck,’”Garcia says. “It’s disrespecting all the mom-and-pop bodega owners that started these businesses in the ’60s and ’70s.”
Bodegas and corner stores are intrinsically tied to immigrant communities, starting with the wave of Puerto Rican immigrants throughout the 1940s to the 1970s. Earlier this year a contingent of Yemeni bodega owners staged a strike in response to Trump’s anti-Muslim executive order that saw approximately 1,000 shops shut down.
For the company unoriginally named after actual bodegas, to capitalize on the word “bodega” and the labor that immigrants have put into fostering community and resilience is racist. Whether it’s bodegas or delivery dudes, immigrants and people of color have been forced to corner the market of convenience, at the cost of their economic and physical stability.
For the company unoriginally named after actual bodegas to position convenience as something that allows those who benefit from whiteness—including “acceptable” brown folks (I see you, Rajan)—to not have to interact with immigrants and people of color to get a pack of rolling papers or Cheetos or whatever is racist and gross. But I suppose that is just the reality of our hyper-capitalist dystopia, where soon, our only source of social engagements will come from a VR program called Da Club™, and we will get our nutrition using an app called Food™, which will have just bought the white-owned Taco™, a startup for tacos™.
Fuck these assholes.
The brains behind the company unoriginally named after actual bodegas has responded to the wave of criticism I can’t believe they didn’t see coming in a post on Medium (naturally). In the message titled, “So, about our name…,” co-genius Paul McDonald pleaded his case. Some excerpts:
Challenging the urban corner store is not and has never been our goal…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. We see a future where anyone can own and operate a Bodega — delivering relevant items and a great retail experience to places no corner store would ever open.
It’s hard to take this commitment to working around bodegas and corner stores at face value when McDonald literally 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.” Perhaps he didn’t mean that the company unoriginally named after actual bodegas would be directly responsible for putting corner shops out of business, but he certainly suggested their success was mutually exclusive.
In Spanish, “bodega” can mean grocery store, wine cellar, or pantry.
Oh god please don’t do this.
And we apologize to anyone we’ve offended. Rather than disrespect to traditional corner stores — or worse yet, a threat — we intended only admiration.
Once again, the answer is, ‘It was appreciation! Not appropriation!” The apology and commitment to personal growth is great, but something tells me these people are going to make like a bodega cat and gain a bunch of weight and constantly beg for food, making everyone think that they’re pregnant, when really, they’re just fed and fat and smug as all hell.