Two former Google workers have started a venture that is threatening to put the local corner store out of business — with a name that’s a slap in the face of struggling shopkeepers.
The announcement Wednesday of “Bodega,” a glorified vending machine for nonperishable items, left small business owners, their employees and boosters seething.
“To me it’s like sacrilegious — you wanna take this name and use it to make money off it?” said Frank Garcia, who chairs the state Coalition of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce and whose grandfather headed the Asociacion de Bodegueros trade group in the 1950s and ’60s.
“My grandfather is rolling in his grave,” he said.
The machine — a roughly 8-cubic-foot box with glass doors — is stocked with non-perishable, convenience-store fare. Users can unlock the doors with their phones while a camera watches what they remove and charges them accordingly.
The company’s logo is a cat silhouette in an apparent reference to the animal’s ubiquity in bodegas.
Former Google product managers Paul McDonald and Ashwath Rajan cooked up the concept believing it would replace the humble brick-and-mortar bodega, McDonald told magazine 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,” he said.
The company aims to install more than 1,000 in gyms, lobbies and other public spaces nationwide by the end of 2018.
But the machines cannot serve the social function that bodegas do, according to Franklin Reyes, 45, who has worked at Manuel’s Grocery on 152nd Street and Broadway since 1989.
“This is the place that, people after work, they come here talking about baseball, about all kinds of things,” he said. “So if the store disappears, that disappears, too.”
Bodegas are “the character of the neighborhood,” according to retired NYPD cop and lifelong Washington Heights resident Louis Gonell, who explained that workers are always ready to let customers pay for groceries on credit when money is tight.
Following social media backlash, McDonald said he spoke to “New Yorkers, branding people, and even [ran] some survey work” to see whether the name was a bad idea.
“Despite our best intentions and our admiration for traditional bodegas, we clearly hit a nerve this morning,” he wrote in a blog Tuesday. “And we apologize to anyone we’ve offended.”
In an e-mail exchange, he gave no response when asked whether the company would change its name.