When in doubt in New York City, a small corner store is probably a bodega. Sure, delicatessens, full on supermarkets, glorified vending machines and big chain retailers do not qualify as such, but the vast majority of businesses that could be fairly called a “mini mart” are, by NYC standards, probably bodegas. Even Taylor Swift’s definition of what constitutes a bodega is broad.
By all means, Dumbo’s “Superette“, opening tomorrow at 145 Front St., should qualify as a bodega: it is an 150-square-foot space offering “grab-and-go lunch,” snack items, “grocery products,” and its back walls are lined with fridges, according to a press release. Yet, the release describes Superette in varying terms as an “artisanal mini mart,” “chic new mini market and deli,” and “the miniest mart,” (which is also its apparent tagline) but never a bodega.
Its offerings of soy chicharones, small-batch salsa, and “farm to tortilla” tortillas closely mimic typical bodega fare, only significantly more pricey and high-end. There don’t appear to be any half-melted Hershey’s Bars, but there are Abba Zabbas and a selection of power bars. The fridges are filled with upscale drinks and dairy products.
In Superettes’ defense, most bodegas don’t stock matzo ball soup kits, Jacobsen salt products, and cold pressed juices – those are almost exclusively in the domain of bougie grocery stores. Due to the size of the space, though, this is not a grocery store. This would, in most circumstances, be referred to – lovingly, endearingly – as a bodega.
In response to my email asking whether Superette would qualify itself as a bodega, however, their brand relations manager responded that, “The team has been more referring to it as a mini market or a convenience store, rather than a bodega.”
Why would a bodega not want to be called a bodega? For some degree of the same reason a Denver coffee shop thought it was acceptable to say they are “happily gentrifying” a neighborhood and Crown Heights’ Summerhill became notorious after advertising a “bullet hole-ridden wall” as a cheeky perk. Because gentrification is very real and, for many, very tragic, and the refusal by newcomers and new businesses to cater to long held local traditions – like calling mini marts bodegas – is tone deaf and elitist.
Of all the Brooklyn neighborhoods for Superette to open in, Dumbo is probably the least offensive. The nabe has been baked for decades and is the among the most expensive in the borough. Still though, Dumbo’s Bridge Fresh market at 68 Jay St. underwent a lofty renovation last year and charges much more than your average bodega, but it has never tried to rebrand itself.
It’s one thing to charge more for artisanal goods, it’s another to reject being affiliated with a basic New York institution to make yourself seem more high-end.