What to Know
The founders of the Bodega app want to have boxes filled with merchandise all over the U.S.
Critics say the boxes threaten bodega owners while appropriating their image
The hashtag #bodega was trending on Twitter, with hundreds of people attacking the concept
People are fuming to word of a new startup that hopes to replace corner bodegas with a five-foot-wide pantry boxes nationwide.
Founders of the startup, aptly named Bodega, have been testing the boxes at 30 locations in the San Francisco area since last year. On Wednesday, they announced 50 new locations on the West Coast and said they want to have more than a thousand of them across the U.S. by the end of 2018, according to reports.
Bodega is the brainchild of Google veterans Paul McDonald and Ashwath Rajan. Customers use an app to unlock the Bodega box and are charged for whatever they take out. The app monitors the most popular purchases in an area, and workers restock the Bodega boxes when their supply dwindles.
McDonald and Rajan see the boxes in California as just the beginning.
“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.”
Bodega looks to expand beyond corner store necessities, as well. As Fast Company envisions, Home Depot might set up a box at a construction site, or Staples might add one to an office or school. It aims to eliminate the need to go out and buy a product or to wait for one to be delivered.
McDonald told Fast Company that brick-and-mortar retailers could “bring the products to where people already are so that they can access them immediately, when they need them.”
But Bodega has already proved controversial. When news of the app spread on Wednesday, hundreds of people took to Twitter to criticize not only the concept — emotionless boxes putting mom-and-pop bodega owners out of business — but also the name and logo.
Critics say the name is offensive because it appropriates the term “bodega” while pushing a service that threatens many immigrant business owners. On top of that, they say the app’s logo of a cat (as in the beloved bodega cat) is like putting salt in a wound.
“To compete with bodegas and also use the ‘bodega’ name is unbelievably disrespectful,” said Frank Garcia, chairman of the New York State Coalition of Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, told Fast Company.
“Bodegas can’t compete with this technology, because it is so much more expensive to have a brick-and-mortar store than a small machine,” Garcia said.
Garcia said he’ll encourage his members in New York not to allow the boxes at their properties, and will ask members of the Hispanic community not to use the service because “real bodegas are all about human relationships within a community.”
If Twitter was any indication, it looks like Garcia is in good company. The hashtag #bodega was trending Wednesday afternoon and the tweets were coming in droves.
Hundreds of users blasted the concept of the startup and showed their support for bodegas and their cherished cats. Some people recalled fond late-night memories, or simply praised bodega workers for knowing their loyal customers through and through. Still, not everyone was up in arms; other users said people are overreacting and that bodegas have bigger things to worry about.