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The humble bodega is an essential and beloved part of the New York City experience. You can get anything there at any hour, usually without having to walk far or take the subway, and there are cats. One startup thinks this isn’t good enough, though—there’s still too much messiness and humanity in the corner store, and perhaps this could be removed and replaced with a line of sterile vending machines. Much to the chagrin of actual bodega customers—which is to say, people—this company calls itself Bodega.
In a Fast Company profile that introduced Bodega to the world, Bodega co-founder and ex-Googler Paul McDonald laid out his vision: “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.”
The reaction online, from the tech and media people who would presumably be Bodega’s target audience, has ranged from negative to scorchingly furious. Even if the product were Good, which is debatable, Bodega’s branding is being decried as Bad.
Who names their company Bodega and makes “fuck bodegas” their mission? You’re a logistics company. You stock vending machines. Don’t front.— Clarko (@Clarko) September 13, 2017
EX-GOOGLE PPL: we invented a way to get rid of bodegas— move your feet katie (@katefeetie) September 13, 2017
NYERS: but we like bodegas
EX-GOOGLE PPL: don't interrupt me when I'm disrupting you
check out my new business, bodega. *gestures at shoebox in hallway filled with loose cigarettes and hot cheetos*— Max Read (@max_read) September 13, 2017
*Walks into bodega*— PRE-KARDASHIAN KANYE (@CushKobain) September 13, 2017
Me: "Let me get a chopped cheese with grilled onion."
people are saying bodegas are the great equalizer but i’m cool with them disappearing because we’ll all cross paths at the apple store— brian feldman (@bafeldman) September 13, 2017
Also, bodegas play the role in poorer NYC communities that doormen do in wealthier ones: Someone keeping an eye on things 24 hours a day.— Philip Bump (@pbump) September 13, 2017
Calling a Eames-lite combo of garage door opener and minibar “Bodega” is trolling or ignorance, both of which should give investors pause.— Paul Ford (@ftrain) September 13, 2017
that many people of color rely on bodegas and mom and pop stores as both owners and customers makes them ripe for Silicon Valley disruption— darth:™ (@darth) September 13, 2017
And what will become of the “bodega cats,” so frequently present in NYC’s mom-and-pop stores that they’ve become a meme? Can they live inside vending machines? Well, Bodega has a cat as a logo, so I guess that’s something …
yeah then where the fuck do the bodega cats hang out https://t.co/G9Ogox9h83— darth:™ (@darth) September 13, 2017
VC startup to kill all bodega & corner-store cats, replace with animated cat emoji. https://t.co/AVqm0trOqC— Ken Layne (@KenLayne) September 13, 2017
I would kill for Japanese style vending machines but maybe don't phrase it as "we're gonna use machine learning to kill bodega cats"— Chris Person (@Papapishu) September 13, 2017
They even took the name "Bodega" and made a cat their logo. I try to keep it clean on social media, but fuck these people. https://t.co/dXBtMeKSZw— S. A. Chakraborty (@SChakrabs) September 13, 2017
Getting a Fast Company write-up is usually a big deal for a nascent startup, but this one might just kill Bodega, or at least force it to rebrand. It’s a tale as old as startups themselves: online backlash, apology, and then failing upward with some other project. Is this Bodega’s fate?
just reading this you can already SEE the awful UK tab aggregation, the accusation that fastco took words out of context, the medium apology— Max Read (@max_read) September 13, 2017
Fast Company itself has even posted a follow-up about the reaction, headlined “Startup Bodega’s glorified vending machines are sparking major Twitter backlash.”
The company announced 50 new machines on the West Coast in the Fast Company piece Wednesday, with plans to spread nationwide—and presumably into NYC—next year. If they’re still around then.
Jay Hathaway is a former senior writer who specialized in internet memes and weird online culture. He previously served as the Daily Dot’s news editor, was a staff writer at Gawker, and edited the classic websites Urlesque and Download Squad. His work has also appeared on nymag.com, suicidegirls.com, and the Morning News.