The places and spaces that define so many Black and Latinx communities are consistently threatened by gentrification, lack of access to resources and folks with deep pockets who find ways to take things folks have already been doing and repackage them with no benefit to the people who created them in the first places.
Thus, there’s no reason to be surprised at the outrage following a Fast Company piece outlining the plans of two former Google execs to make a beloved ‘hood staple “obsolete.”
Paul McDonald and Ashwath Rajan are so disconnected from urban living that they think they can replace the Mom-and-Pop corner stores known as “bodegas” with a stupid-ass contraption called…wait for it…Bodega. If that weren’t offensive enough, the logo for the glorified vending machine company is a cat–a nod to the furry friends that are often employed to keep actual bodegas free of mice in places like New York City, where even the cleanest of stores are no match for street garbage and old buildings.
According to Fast Company, the five-foot-wide pantry boxes will be stocked with some of the non-perishable items you’d typically pick up at your local corner store. Absent, of course, will be the hot sandwiches and human interaction that make real bodegas so important to the communities in which they exist.
It seems that the target Bodega consumer would be someone who didn’t rely on a corner store to feed their household and only uses them for convenience between grocery store trips or Blue Ribbon deliveries.
As of Wednesday, there were 50 new Bodega locations on the West Coast and the company hopes to have thousands more in the next year. They’ve already secured angel investments from senior executives at Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, and Google.
When Fast Company asked McDonald if he’s worried about his plan being culturally insensitive, he said that he’s not concerned. No, literally, that’s what he 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% said ‘no’.”
(We need to see some receipts on those surveys.)
Frank Garcia, chairman of New York State Coalition of Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, isn’t buying it— telling Fast Company that it’s offensive to profit off of a concept that has been integral to communities of colors for decades. He’s asking members not to allow the machines in New York State.
“Real bodegas are all about human relationships within a community, having someone you know greet you and make the sandwich you like,” he said. “To compete with bodegas and also use the ‘bodega’ name is unbelievably disrespectful.”
Corner stores are often owned and operated by hard-working community members, many of them immigrants. Considering how many ‘hoods are true food and retail “deserts,” the bodega may be the closest–if not the only–place were some shoppers can purchase things like milk, meat and other things needed to create a balanced meal on a budget. They also typically accept WIC and EBT payments, and in many instances, owners have had informal credit arrangements with long-time customers who may be a dollar short on a package of diapers, or unable to pay for their kids’ breakfast sandwich until the end of the week.
For immigrant communities, the bodega may also be the only place in walking distance that truly feels like home to folks who turn to them for products that won’t even make it to the “ethnic” aisle of the grocery store and interactions with people with who may have made it to the US from a different part of the planet, but understand what it means to make this place your own.
Here’s to hoping the Bodega founders 1) rebrand and reassess (lose the name and put the boxes in places that won’t put small businesses in jeopardy) or 2) fail miserably.