Startup replaces iconic bodegas with ‘vending machine’ style boxes

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NEW YORK — A startup company installing boxes with bodega staples in apartment buildings and similar locations has been met with fierce opposition from New Yorkers attached to their corner stores.


Bodega, started by ex-Google employees Paul McDonald and Ashwath Rajan, has created a five-foot-wide pantry with non-perishables. The boxes are connected to an app: it lets customers unlock the box and a camera follows what they've taken, appropriately charging their credit cards.

Rajan's and McDonald's goal is to make traditional bodegas a thing of the past, according to a profile of the startup Fast Company.

“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.”

Many New Yorkers already seem to hate the idea even though the business, which currently has about 80 locations, is only on the West Coast for now, despite plans to expand.

"Anyone who can go in a bodega and decide it needs to be made sterile and personality-free doesn't need to have money or influence," one Twitter user said.

Her opinion was echoed by Frank Garcia, the chairman of the New York State Coalition of Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which represents thousands of bodega owners

"Real bodegas are all about human relationships within a community, having someone you know greet you and make the sandwich you like," Garcia told Fast Company.

He's also concerned about the financial impact the new company might have on brick-and-mortar bodegas, he told Fast Company. Rising rents and competition from delivery services are already hurting bodega owners' bottom line.

Garcia might not have to worry too much if the furor on Twitter is anything to go by. One man tweeted that he would "eat off the floor of the sketchiest bodega in NYC" before buying something from the startup company.

McDonald, in a statement released following the online uproar over the business, said Bodega is "definitely not" trying to put corner stores out of business.

"Despite our best intentions and our admiration for traditional bodegas, we clearly hit a nerve this morning," McDonald said. "And we apologize to anyone we’ve offended. Rather than disrespect to traditional corner stores — or worse yet, a threat — we intended only admiration."

Part of that admiration seems tied to Bodega's logo: a cat, which serves as a nod to the bodega cat meme on social media. The company's logo choice has also angered Twitter users.

"I've never longed for anyone to be mauled to death by actual bodega cats but here we are," one woman tweeted.

The New York City Department of Small Business shared their support for bodega owners.

"We stand with bodega cats (and their owners) to support local, neighborhood businesses," the department tweeted.

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