Leave My Bodega Alone
I have many childhood memories of running and playing around my father’s bodega. To me every day at that age was all fun and games, but for my father, it was the time when he began to live the “American Dream.”
In the 80s, my father, a Dominican immigrant, who had less than 8 years in the US, worked three jobs to support his family, and save as much as he could. In the era where most of the young Dominican men that had migrated to the states, especially New York City, were either making money illegally, or through hard work with low end jobs, my father stood out. Like most of the men in my family, my honorable, and hardworking father was an amazing role model. My father chose to keep his nose clean, and stay out of that dangerous street game of drug dealing, and instead started his own small business. In 1981, my father opened a small bodega on 133rd street and Amsterdam Avenue.
Flash forward almost 36 years later, my father is still a proud business man. Now in his 60s, and still a bodega owner, my father was able to provide for his wife and three children, a dream many young men wish to achieve. All three of us have now moved on to different states. We created new lives but what my father, and the bodega have instilled in us has made us strong individuals. We know what it means to work for what you want and that anything is achievable.
A few years ago, the battle of gentrification arose in our neighborhoods. The once thriving Hispanic neighborhood has disappeared and is now full with transplants and millennials. Gentrification caused a lot of small business to close doors, and worse of all, other large chain supermarkets have moved into his area, and have cut my father’s business. But my old man fought through. He is still fighting everyday to stay afloat in this ever-changing city and world. Although gentrification still is a battle it is one we are willing to continue fighting as bodega are a neighborhood staples. In recent years, my worries now come from my father’s strenuous livelihood. It scares me every time I talk to him to hear him a little bit more older and a little bit more tired. Despite gentrification and his age now there is a new battle.
The other day while on LinkedIn I read a story about a certain startup that is trying to take on the age-old business of “BODEGAS”. “Called Bodega, this startup installs unmanned pantry boxes in apartments, offices, dorms, and gyms. It promises convenience, but also represents competition for many mom-and-pop stores.” As FastCompany.com describes. I could not believe that these gentlemen decided to invest time and money on a concept that would put my father basically out of business. To play devil’s advocate and be fair, I totally understand the concept and being that I now work in the Bay Area and live very near Silicon Valley I get the whole startup mentality and movement. They find problems and they set out to fix things with better solutions. But how can a bodega be a problem? How much more convenient can you get than having a bodega, or even two and three per street, plus the major supermarkets. Bodegas were already a solution when your supermarket closed, or when it was a little more than a 5-minute walk away. I understand today’s culture of immediate gratification and meeting people’s needs with minimal effort. I understand that we live in the Jetson Era where machines should be catering to us because we all been taught that time is money. But, come on, how lazy have we become that we are taking on a problem or getting a carton of eggs from the corner store. And what about human interaction and culture? You want people to “see something say something” but if we are all indoors who is going to see anything and say something? Heck, do I even know you, I haven’t seen you in the bodegas you must not be from the neighborhood!
Bodegas are a neighborhood institute. When you locked yourself out of your apartment and you need to call a locksmith but your phone dying or is in the apartment, the Bodegero (store owner) will help you out. What about when you need a snack and haven’t gone grocery shopping, is 11pm, and your glorified supermarket is closed, or you’re too lazy to walk to the main avenue, your bodega’s lights are on. What about when is 6am and you are off early to work and you need that hot Spanish coffee and butter roll and a familiar face to say good morning, I am sure the Bodega is a better option than a $4 Starbucks. Bodegas are community staples so let’s help preserve them and support those who gambled their lives to make a dream come true by serving their community.
At the end of the day I am worried about the effect that this startup might have on my old community. It's bad enough that we cannot afford to live in our neighborhoods any longer, do they plan to take our culture with them as well. If this idea takes hold it's not only my father that will be out of business but all Bodegas will be closed and with them thousand of hard working people. Most are immigrants or low income people who have depended on employment in these Bodegas for generations. I am not just worried about my father but all of his fellow small entrepreneurs who struggle everyday to achieve what they see as their piece of the American Dream.