People are fuming to word of a new startup that hopes to replace corner bodegas with a five-foot-wide pantry boxes nationwide.
Founders of the startup, aptly named Bodega, have been testing the boxes at 30 locations in the San Francisco area since last year. On Wednesday, they announced 50 new locations on the West Coast and said they want to have more than a thousand of them across the U.S. by the end of 2018, according to reports.
Bodega is the brainchild of Google veterans Paul McDonald and Ashwath Rajan. Customers use an app to unlock the Bodega box and are charged for whatever they take out. The app monitors the most popular purchases in an area, and workers restock the Bodega boxes when their supply dwindles.
McDonald and Rajan see the boxes in California as just the beginning.
“The vision here is much bigger than the box itself,” McDonald 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.”
Bodega looks to expand beyond corner store necessities, as well. As Fast Company envisions, Home Depot might set up a box at a construction site, or Staples might add one to an office or school. It aims to eliminate the need to go out and buy a product or to wait for one to be delivered.
McDonald told Fast Company that brick-and-mortar retailers could “bring the products to where people already are so that they can access them immediately, when they need them.”
But Bodega has already proved controversial. When news of the app spread on Wednesday, hundreds of people took to Twitter to criticize not only the concept – emotionless boxes putting mom-and-pop bodega owners out of business – but also the name and logo.
Critics say the name is offensive because it appropriates the term “bodega” while pushing a service that threatens many immigrant business owners. On top of that, they say the app’s logo of a cat (as in the beloved bodega cat) is like putting salt in a wound.
“To compete with bodegas and also use the ‘bodega’ name is unbelievably disrespectful,” said Frank Garcia, chairman of the New York State Coalition of Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, told Fast Company.
“Bodegas can’t compete with this technology, because it is so much more expensive to have a brick-and-mortar store than a small machine,” Garcia said.
Garcia said he’ll encourage his members in New York not to allow the boxes at their properties, and will ask members of the Hispanic community not to use the service because “real bodegas are all about human relationships within a community.”
If Twitter was any indication, it looks like Garcia is in good company. The hashtag #bodega was trending Wednesday afternoon and the tweets were coming in droves.
Hundreds of users blasted the concept of the startup and showed their support for bodegas and their cherished cats. Some people recalled fond late-night memories, or simply praised bodega workers for knowing their loyal customers through and through. Still, not everyone was up in arms; other users said people are overreacting and that bodegas have bigger things to worry about.
Weird that they’re calling this heinous vending machine “Bodega” and not “Gentrification Box” https://t.co/xPCozclRRD
– Tristan Cooper (@TristanACooper)September 13, 2017
I swear if I was kidnapped or murdered, the 1st person who would know (besides my husband) the woman who sells me wine at the #bodega
– Ashley Lovelace (@Oh_Lovelacee)September 13, 2017
Moved away from nyc 2 years ago….STILL remember my Bodega guy. Gave me free samosas, free donuts, recipes….no box can replace that.
– Chintal (@CCoceans311)September 13, 2017
#bodega box is only authentic if cat is stuck inside
– Ian Nelson (@talkbackny)September 13, 2017
a vending machine is not a bodega
– Greg Howard (@greghoward88)September 13, 2017
bougie brooklynites at arms about the gentrification of bodega culture is the snake eating itself
– Puja Patel (@senari)September 13, 2017
i also don’t get the outrage. It’s just some trendy startup. The bigger risk to Bodega owners are land developers in NYC
– Mysterycat���� (@Mysteryjellocat)September 13, 2017
This is overreacting. People seem to hate the name and i didnt know what a bodega was until today. I guess ppl need to be angry at something
– Jack song (@heartanimator)September 13, 2017
I can’t believe how a glorified vending machine has created a sobbing hysterical lynch mob of SJWs #bodega
– Tech Quesadilla (@o_log_queso)September 13, 2017
Long live the bodega.
We ain’t lettin y’all go nowhere.
– The Undefeated (@TheUndefeated)September 13, 2017
This is my closest bodega, my apartment is on the 5th floor of that building, they know how I like my sandwiches and give me free coffee . pic.twitter.com/zSytcjN107
– Elizabeth West (@Limeylizzie)September 13, 2017
Leave my bodega alone. If I want to buy out of date products covered in dust that smell like cat pee, it’s MY damn business.
– Nicole (@Garbo99)September 13, 2017
Bodega-defense twitter is my new favorite twitter
– erica orden (@eorden)September 13, 2017
My New Yorkers really hurt over this bodega box :/
– kerry d (@BuffAssmfer)September 13, 2017
The only real question is if the bodega-killing machines will sell beer. Because if not, there will be hell to pay.
– (((Trump Dump))) (@pdxpassivity)September 13, 2017
That’s such a weird thing. I think they’d miss the real Bodega customer base. There are no socks, brilo pads or those roses in glass.
– My Name Is (@Jammond)September 13, 2017
1 of the things i’ve missed most since moving frm NYC 2 NOLA are my bodega friends. they r an integral part of NYC’s comm & cultural fabric.
– Katy Walker, PhD (@rovergrlky)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
There’s no such thing as a vending machine cat, so this model is doomed to fail. #bodegacatspic.twitter.com/d7pTyWPT7c
– AdrienneMariaVrettos (@AdrienneVrettos)September 13, 2017
Dear Bodega Cats,
Now’s the time to start the revolution.
– Morgan Jerkins (@MorganJerkins)September 13, 2017