On Wednesday morning, Fast Company ran a story about a pair of former Google employees who are launching a start-up that aims to make New York City’s bodegas obsolete. How, you ask? By rolling out thousands of automated vending machines that sell products commonly found at convenience stores. Called Bodega, the concept immediately drew backlash from pretty much every free-thinking New Yorker on the internet.
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
— Amanda Mull (@amandamull) September 13, 2017
Weird that they’re calling this heinous vending machine “Bodega” and not “Gentrification Box” https://t.co/xPCozclRRD
— Tristan Cooper (@TristanACooper) September 13, 2017
The company, founded by Google veterans Paul McDonald and Ashwath Rajan, has been testing the concept in 30 Bay Area locations this year and unveiled another 50 locations on the West Coast on Wednesday. It hopes to add thousands more across the country in 2018. Vending machines are nothing revolutionary, but Bodega’s name and marketing message are the most tone-deaf thing New Yorkers have seen since Summerhill sandwich shop sent out a press release flaunting its “bullet hole-ridden wall.” Bodega’s entire business model revolves around running neighborhood corner stores—which are often owned by immigrants and minorities—out of business, all while appropriating a phrase long associated with Latino communities. Heck, its logo is a goddamn kitty cat, a reference to the felines that reside in bodegas across New York.
The concept has caught on with some investors, though. Bodega has already raised $2.5 million in financing, giving it plenty of firepower in its attempt to replace your, er, bodega. It feels like McDonald and Rajan are simply riding the trend of automated and digital commerce (these vending machines are activated with an app, of course), but the sterile, unmanned boxes are contrary to everything that makes New York City’s bodegas so beautiful.
Bodega may be an omen of an automated dystopian future, one without loose cigarettes, turkey rolls that taste faintly of hands or late-night conversations about the rising cost of milk. It sounds like pure hell.