Silicon Valley loves to disrupt industries by inventing things that already exist. Remember when Lyft invented buses? Good times. And just recently, the exec in charge of Apple retail announced that instead of “stores” their… stores… are now referred to as “town squares.”
Well, two tech bros are here with a new disruption to… the bodega industry. (I know, hold on, we’ll come back to this.) It’s so innovative, so fresh, so new, they named it…
They literally named it after the thing they’re aiming to “make obsolete.”
But wait, it gets better.
Per 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.
It’s not even a bodega. It’s a vending machine.
These jabronis even have the audacity to make their logo a cat, a tribute to the omnipresent bodega cats they’re seeking to make homeless.
And of course because 90 percent of Twitter users are journalists and 90 percent of journalists live in New York City (these are not real statistics, don’t @ me), Twitter was not having Bodega™.
(Credit to Kelly Conaboy, a genius, for inspiring the headline for this blog post.)
(Desus is an actual “Bodega Boy,” so he’s basically an expert on this controversial issue.)
Of course, there were people who weren’t on board with what one friend described as “a lot of fairly well-off people virtue-signaling in ways that don’t match up with being virtuous.”
Several people pointed out that not having humans actually took away one of the most valuable things about bodegas.
A friend told me about a bodega that served as an answering service for a local politician. If you wanted to speak to him, you called the bodega, left a message, and he’d call you back within minutes.
As a native New Yorker, I can attest that all of these things are true. Bodegas are part of the fabric of New York. I grew up next to Penn Station, which is an aggressively ungentrifiable handful of blocks where, while walking home from our school bus stop, I would regularly yank my little brother out of the way of men getting literally thrown out of a “bikini bar.” (That bikini bar is now a Taco Bell, for what that’s worth.)
Our local bodega guy, Hassan, still recognizes me when I come by, and asks me when I’m going to buy a condo in Greenpoint. (“I don’t have that bodega money, Hassan!” I regularly shout back, and we both have a laugh at my terrible career choices and life decisions.) He’s had that bodega since my parents moved into the apartment with me as a newborn, and he would bring them all of the change in the register every New Year’s to contribute to a savings account for me. (I have not seen this money, for the record.) He’s walked me to my building door when I’ve been spooked by someone on the street, or followed home from the bus, or otherwise scared or skittish. He’s delivered milk or cereal or whatever else we needed when my dad was away on business and my mom was cooped up with a small child and morning sickness.
But none of that stuff really matters because the important thing is this start-up is an extremely bad idea. Eater editor Helen Rosner has a great thread on Twitter explaining exactly why creating a vending machine business without a heavy emphasis on logistics (in particular, the actual humans who will stock these “pantry boxes”) is a short path to bankruptcy.
Which brings us to an interesting point.
Sure, it’s easy enough to hate these two tone-deaf tech bros, one of whom said he’s “not particularly concerned about” the business name seeming culturally insensitive. But what about the venture capitalists who encouraged this project?
According to Fast Company, they are “Josh Kopelman at First Round Capital, Kirsten Green at Forerunner Ventures, and Hunter Walk at Homebrew.” Walk, in particular, is an interesting backer, since his Twitter persona tends to be “woke VC.” As one friend summed it up for me: “Bodega™ is the symptom, Venture Capital is the disease.”
Anyway, I can’t see this venture posing an actual threat to bodegas in the places where they’re loved and used. Even the photos Bodega™ provided to Fast Company suggest they’re going to be nothing more than vending machines in the lobbies of WeWork branches and ill-placed condo buildings.
Further Reading (or Listening or Watching):
- “Bodega Cats in Their Own Words” (a WNYC series)
- “A Day at the Bodega” (Maria Hinojosa, Latino USA, February 2015)
- “The App Around the Corner” (Peter Moskowitz, The New Republic, November 2015)
- “There’s Blood in the Water in Silicon Valley” (Ben Smith, BuzzFeed News, September 2017)
- “Inside the All-American Yemeni Bodega Strike” (Amos Barshad, The Fader, February 2017)
- “Corner Store Situation” (Action Bronson, Munchies, March 2017)