mobile-bannertablet-bannerdesktop-banner
Commentary

Two Ex-Googlers Want to Kill Your Bodega

Sep 13, 2017

City dwellers who rely on their neighborhood corner stores for coffee, candy and community had nothing good to say about the plan of two ex-Googlers who want to disrupt the beloved mom-and-pop bodega industry.

While Fast Company, who published the story, won the online traffic battle, Paul McDonald and Ashwath Rajan appear to have lost the war of public opinion. Their vision is to place a “pantry box,” which looks like a huge vending machine, pretty much everywhere. Their new company name? "Bodega." From the story:

Bodega’s logo is a cat, a nod to the popular bodega cat meme on social media – although if the duo gets their way, real felines won’t have brick-and-mortar shops to saunter around and take naps in much longer. “The vision here is much bigger than the box itself,” McDonald says. “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.”

Funders include First Round Capital, Forerunner Ventures, and Homebrew, along with angel investment from Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, and Google executives.

But the urban crowd was having none of it.

Joel Martinez, a writer and co-star of the Viceland show Desu and Mero, called in the #bodegahive on Twitter. "THEY CAN TAKE OUR LIVES BUT THEY'LL NEVER TAKE OUR BODEGAAAASSSSS!!!" he tweeted.

People piled on. "Trying to destroy bodegas with a startup called “Bodega” that has a bodega cat logo is… just awful," tweeted Fogcreek CEO Anil Dash. "My bodega guy lives in my building; I'd like to see your dumb machine bring you an egg sammie at 11pm & talk about its world travels," tweeted writer Danielle Henderson.

This isn’t the first time that bodegas, those small, family-run convenience stores have come under some sort of fire.

In February, more than 1,000 bodegas across New York Citys five boroughs went on strike to protest President Trump’s executive order banning immigrants from majority Muslim countries. Many of the stores are owned by Yemeni Americans. “This shutdown of grocery stores and bodegas will be a public show of the vital role these grocers and their families play in New York’s economic and social fabric,” said one of the protest organizers on Facebook.

This past summer, Fader revisited some of the strikers and found that in many cases, the event proved to cement relationships between shop owners and the communities they serve. Tarek Sulimani, a Yemeni American, has owned his bodega in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, for over 20 years. He bought it with the help of his father-in-law. “It’s a tradition,” he says. “Yemenis help each other. When you’re new here, you get a thousand from this person, five thousand from that person. Family. Sometimes friends. You pay it back — with no interest, of course. That’s the way we work.” From the story:

He works seven days a week, often up to 14 or 15 hours a day. We talked on Thursday morning, an hour before the strike was set to begin, over the sound of cash register dings in his spotless, freshly renovated shop. A stream of customers bought sandwiches, lottery tickets, packs of cigarettes, and newspapers in English, Spanish, and Chinese.

“In this kind of business? [Striking] is a tough decision,” Sulimani told me, a dish rag in hand. “You have workers, you have responsibilities. Every hour is important for you to survive.” But people had been coming in all morning, he said, and voicing their support for the strike. Many had even insisted he keep their change, knowing that he’d be losing money later that day. “How nice are the people?!”

If you want to know why people truly love their bodegas — when my favorite one closed, I cried — then listen to this amazing podcast from Latino USA, a production of NPR and Futuro Media Group. They recently spent a day at a bodega in Harlem, home to one of the nation's biggest populations of immigrants from the Dominican Republic.

While a vending machine containing random things you've run out of — diapers, candy bars, flowers, and a bar of soap — might be welcome in some communities, it comes at a real cost to entrepreneurs and their neighbors. “What does every 'hood need? A store where you can get the randomest things," says Joel Martinez, who popped up again to defend his favorite spot. “Where else can I get a bacon egg and cheese and a fifty cent soda that will harm my fertility rate?”

But you can also talk, sit down and hang out with the people you share a zip code with, he added. "It’s a community thing as well."

Update: Bodega's Paul McDonald responded in detail on Medium. "Challenging the urban corner store is not and has never been our goal," he writes. They admit the backlash took them by surprise. "We did some homework — speaking to New Yorkers, branding people, and even running some survey work asking about the name and any potential offense it might cause. But it’s clear that we may not have been asking the right questions of the right people. Despite our best intentions and our admiration for traditional bodegas, we clearly hit a nerve this morning. And we apologize to anyone we’ve offended. Rather than disrespect to traditional corner stores — or worse yet, a threat — we intended only admiration."

On Point

Widow of Indian man killed in Kansas hate crime faced deportation

Sunayana Dumala lost her resident status after her husband, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, was shot and killed in an apparent hate crime in an Olathe, Kan. bar last February. (Lauren Smiley wrote a full account of the murders for Wired in June.) Rep. Kevin Yoder has helped Dumala get a one-year visa after he learned that she was afraid she would not be allowed to return to the U.S. after attending her husband’s funeral in Hyderabad. “We are not going to deport the widow of the victim of a hate crime,” he told the Kansas City Star.

Hindustan Times

It's time we acknowledged northern slaveowners

Tiya Miles, a professor of American culture and history at the University of Michigan, tees up her new book, “The Dawn of Detroit: A Chronicle of Slavery and Freedom in the City of the Straits,” with this pointed op-ed in the New York Times. Though Detroit was known as a last stop on the Underground Railroad, the city has an ugly slave-holding legacy. William Macomb, was one of the largest slaveowners in the area and went on to become one of the first trustees of the University of Michigan. “The Macomb surname and those of numerous Detroit slave sellers, slaveholders and indigenous-land thieves cover the region’s map,” she writes.

New York Times

A man attempted to run through a group of protesters in Vancouver

This week, police in Vancouver, Washington detained, but did not arrest, a man for attempting to drive his truck into a crowd of anti-fascist counter-protesters, in an incident eerily similar to Charlottesville. The protest had been launched to counter a planned rally held by Patriots Prayer, a right wing group. The man, whose truck was adorned with a Confederate flag, attempted to drive backwards through the crowd. A must-read for the kicker about the pepper spraying group that tried to disperse the protesters in his place and saw their efforts end rather abruptly.

[bs-link link="http://www.wweek.com/news/2017/09/10/police-in-vancouver-arrest-man-for-nearly-running-down-antifa-protesters-with-his-truck/"" source="Willamette Week"]

The Woke Leader

Talent leaders: What’s on your mind?

Saadia Muzaffar is a tech entrepreneur and founder of TechGirls Canada, and a longtime supporter of raceAhead and inclusion work around the world. (Change Together, her team’s essential guide to inclusion can be found here.) Now she’s asking inclusion professionals to share their one big priority for 2018. What’s on your mind? Yes, she will share the results. It's what she does.

Saadia Muzaffar

Evidently we need more activist anthropologists

In a fascinating Q&A, two anthropologists, Daniel Goldstein and Keisha-Khan Perry discuss how applied anthropology changes public debates. Perry, in particular, goes deep into the idea that “activist anthropology” has an aim and an obligation. “That’s what this idea of anthropology for liberation is about: this work that we are doing has to have some political aim. It has to take a stance on issues of inequality and push for the agenda of especially African diasporic people.”

American Anthropologist

How former slaves pursued their American dreams

Take a few moments to explore this extraordinary site that has collected “information wanted” newspaper ads from former slaves, who were looking for loved ones that had been ripped away from them via sale or other violence. “INFORMATION WANTED of whose name was Ritter Payne,” wrote Dovie Epps. “She was sent South just before the war and sold to a Negro Trader named Haden who lived in Leon County, Tex. She left two children, Amanda Payne, my mother, and Pink Payne, my uncle…Any information concerning her will be gratefully received.” The site is also looking to crowd-source transcription duties.

Information Wanted

All products and services featured are based solely on editorial selection. FORTUNE may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website.

Quotes delayed at least 15 minutes. Market data provided by Interactive Data. ETF and Mutual Fund data provided by Morningstar, Inc. Dow Jones Terms & Conditions: http://www.djindexes.com/mdsidx/html/tandc/indexestandcs.html. S&P Index data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. Terms & Conditions. Powered and implemented by Interactive Data Managed Solutions