Imagine a city without bodegas

Duane Reade and grocery apps can never replace this style

Duane Reade and grocery apps can never replace this style

What would a world without bodegas look like? It’s a question that would get you laughed out of the room a few years ago, but now as the New York Times reports, the very existence of the convenience stores/community hubs/homes to iconic signage is now threatened by rising rents and chain convenience stores.

To be sure, this is something that’s happening in Manhattan at the moment, and you don’t have to chain yourself to the place down the block just yet if you live here. One day though? Well, if Manhattan’s high rents have swept into Brooklyn and Queens like a virus, so there’s no telling when one day you open the paper to see the same kind of story about the outerboroughs.

Maybe for some people, that world doesn’t matter much. Unlike the fake mourning for styrofoam cups that we engaged in a couple months back, bodegas are actually useful and actually iconic. Think about the city-wide obsession with bodega cats, think of the art project dedicated to photographing bodega food signs around the city. More importantly, think of your own experiences at bodegas.

When I came back from Thor 2 with inspiration for this post about what the movie said about the intern-exploiting economy bouncing around my skull, I wrote it fueled with coffee from a nearby bodega with a mural of the cover to Return to the 36 Chambers painted on it. When I thought smoking would make me cool, I used to buy untaxed packs of Marlboro Reds and American Spirits from a bodega near the Market Hotel. The bodega on Wyckoff and Dekalb always had sandwiches for me when I was too lazy or depressed to cook (which was frequently), sandwiches that would make Subway’s CEO torch his company headquarters out of shame from pretending they make the same kind of food. Sure you can make yourself a bacon, egg and cheese in the morning, but does it come with a friendly voice calling out “Hey, my friend, what can I get you?” and the chance to flip through the paper while you wait for it?

There are of course bodegas that you go into and tell you they just don’t have any more milk at 11am and seemingly exist merely for people in the neighborhood to hang out in and watch daytime talk shows, but even those serve a purpose: to give people with no TV a chance to know what’s happening on Steve Harvey. Anyway, give me that over the same Duane Reade with the same playlist and the same gross pre-made sandwiches that you’ll find at every other Duane Reade. They’ll also look the same and have the same prices and will definitely have zero cats.

Change is inevitable in the city, as has been discussed on this site. The butcher shop my great-grandfather owned and my grandfather worked at is long gone, as are so many shops like it. And god knows anguished thinkpiece whines aren’t going to change the economics of owning a small business and having to compete with chains. Just remember that Duane Reade won’t sell you loosies and Duane Reade won’t test your reflexes by forcing you to get items off a high shelf with a broom or grabbing stick the clerk hands you. Duane Reade will always be airless and static. Oh Duane Reade has a walk-in beer cooler? Well just wander in and stay there I guess, since that’s the only place where your cold heart will be comfortable.

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One Comment

  • Or the bodega on 5th Avenue that was there for me when I threw my first party in my first Brooklyn apartment. Someone clogged the toilet and we had dozens of beer drinking friends left stranded. At 1am I went and asked the counter dude if he happened to have a plunger. Without hesitation, he pulled out a ladder, went to the back of the store, moved a bunch of toilet paper out of the way and revealed a super sturdy plunger with a price tag of $2.49 that had clearly been there since the 80’s.

    YOU WON’T GET THAT AT 7-11!