More like Bro-dega, amirite?
September 13, 2017 9:48 PM   Subscribe

Fast Company: Two Ex-Googlers Want To Make Bodegas And Mom-And-Pop Corner Stores ObsoleteCalled Bodega, this startup installs unmanned pantry boxes in apartments, offices, dorms, and gyms. It promises convenience, but also represents competition for many mom-and-pop stores.

Early reactions to Bodega have been... skeptical, to say the least.

Helen Rosner, Eater: Bodega Isn’t Just Bad Branding, It’s Bad Business
Bodega’s product is, fundamentally, a vending machine. (Well, maybe it’s a mini-bar — open access to product, in fancy places, with a presumed audience that’s affluent and design-minded.) Vending machines are a unique form of commerce, mostly defined by the lack of human interaction at the point of transaction. This kind of unmanned retail operation has a long history (the vending history timeline on the website of NAMA, the National Automatic Merchandising Association, kicks off with Egypt’s Ptolemaic dynasty; it is delightful), with efficiency as its primary appeal. A tiny, self-contained store without an employee saves all sorts of overhead: Less required real estate, lower payroll, shockingly greater likelihood that shoplifters will be crushed to death.

These efficiencies aren’t gravy, though; they’re essential. They work by way of a simple economy of scale: If you run a few dozen machines (or a few thousand), it becomes possible to buy your products at a discount, to warehouse the products more effectively, and to both fill and repair your vending units in a more streamlined way. These businesses live or die by logistics. [...]

So many products, across so many Bodegas, in so many unique configurations poses a set of phenomenally complex logistical conundra: How are the products purchased? Where are they warehoused? How are they bundled for distribution to their unique Bodegas? Who restocks the Bodegas? How are the restocks transported? How can the company ensure that there’s sufficient route density — that there are enough Bodegas in each local area, which need to be restocked frequently enough, on harmonious schedules, to cover the costs of labor and transportation? [...]

When I joined in on Bodega’s public Twitter flogging (with tweets including several that turned into this article), I got a reply from Nadim Hossain, a startup executive who’s done time at several major Silicon Valley success stories. He wrote, “Appreciate your insights! Curious why Bodega is eliciting such strong negative reactions? If it works, you’ve proven it’s an audacious idea.”

Inside of that lives a peculiarly Silicon Valley syllogism: Success is heightened by outside skepticism, therefore outside skepticism may be an indicator of success — Hossain later tweeted that he thinks the Bodega idea “has merit.” But I’m more stuck on that word, “audacious.” I think Hossain means it to be about boldness and daring, which are qualities that remain to be seen — if the startup fails, it won’t have been bold and daring, it will have been foolhardy. But I think by another meaning, Bodega is already audacious: It is rash and thoughtless. It’s ethically and culturally bankrupt, but it also seems to be poorly constructed and unsustainably scaled. So it’ll be the other kind of bankrupt, too.
Anne Branigin, The Root: America Unites Momentarily to Hate This Stupid-Ass ‘Bodega’ Startup
Don’t worry, guys! Surveys were conducted! The Latins were cool with it!

Except, of course, for the ones who aren’t. Not counted in that “97%” was the chairman of the New York State Coalition of Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Frank Garcia. He represents thousands of bodega owners in New York, and he did not mince words in the Fast Company article.

According to Garcia, many bodega owners are suffering because of escalating rents and competition from delivery services like Fresh Direct. A service like this could further adversely affect them. “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 says. “To compete with bodegas and also use the ‘bodega’ name is unbelievably disrespectful.” [...]

But in 2017, ventures like “Bodega” are, in fact, peak America: repackaging the work of communities of color for cheaper and faster, with no shame left over to even bother calling their theft by a different name."
Melanie Ehrenkranz, Gizmodo: Silicon Valley's 'Bodega' of the Future Is a Bougie Vending Machine With No Cats
Two former Google employees see your beloved local bodega and raise you a glorified vending machine. In typical Silicon Valley fashion, tech bros are capitalizing on the charm of your community mom-and-pop convenience store, aiming to put them out of business while co-opting their name. [...]

Solving a problem that doesn’t exist to threaten the livelihoods of local bodegas is nefarious enough, but the venture also stands to get rid of arguably one of the most important bodega features—the bodega cat—which they’ve also co-opted for the startup’s logo. How dare you.
posted by tonycpsu (144 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
will that vend beer? smokes?
no?

hmmm...
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:59 PM on September 13 [8 favorites]


Response from Bodega: "So, about our name…"
posted by mbrubeck at 10:01 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


Don't forget lottery tickets! You got to have a plan "B" with all this brave new world shit.
posted by jadepearl at 10:04 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


this is new? We've had a similar thing at our office for years now. A very stoned young man in a van comes every day or two and restocks it. Our office is in an industrial wasteland and prior to this all we had was a vending machine with soda and candy so as far as I'm concerned? it's great. I can get chips or fruit and nuts and semi-healthy things for an exorbitant mark up mere steps from my office. If I forget milk for my coffee, no problem. If I want a dodgy salad even, I can have that.

If I worked walking distance to a decent coffee shop or store I'd never use it but I don't, so I use it a lot.

It's much bigger than the pictures though, two fridges or three and a set of shelves. Nohing is locked up, which only works in an office I guess.
posted by fshgrl at 10:05 PM on September 13 [7 favorites]


Please tell me it only sells Soylent, and only for Bitcoin.
posted by zompist at 10:09 PM on September 13 [103 favorites]


I was really surprised people thought this was a good idea to run, much less fund. Wasn't there a study sorta recently about how if you actually priced out the per hour wage of some of these family run shops you'd be pretty well under minimum wage. That seems to me a big issues in trying to silicon valley bodegas.
posted by Carillon at 10:13 PM on September 13 [3 favorites]


*points backward in time to Horn & Hardart which served a purpose but the deli and the diner still survive*
posted by hippybear at 10:13 PM on September 13 [3 favorites]


Given that it's 2017 I'm imagining the next step will be a gun-vending machine startup called Shootr.
posted by Lyme Drop at 10:14 PM on September 13 [22 favorites]






The first incarnation of Redbox (a joint venture of McDonald's and Coinstar) was a massive outdoor vending machine that sold lots of c-store type goods, including refrigerated milk and eggs. The only thing people regularly purchased was DVD rentals, so they pivoted.

This was 14 years ago.
posted by JoeZydeco at 10:20 PM on September 13 [82 favorites]


These guys had a decent idea for a frictionless checkout system (though getting people to download and use the app is a big business/marketing challenge.) But instead of developing software and licensing it to concession companies (this would be a great idea for a stadium, consumers would grab and go and employees would re-stock) they decided they needed to build a brand. Bad move, as branding is really difficult and expensive even if you don't poke the bear that is the internet.

Now the narrative is all about their poor choice of name and positioning, instead of the idea you could just walk up to the box and take what you wanted without having to go through any sort of checkout process. Of course, if they really had a workable checkout solution Amazon would crush them into a fine paste and sell their bones at Whole Foods.
posted by elwoodwiles at 10:23 PM on September 13 [48 favorites]


Someone has already invented a vending machine for basically every possible product that's legal and plausible to sell via a vending machine. Most places don't need this because if they wanted a vending machine to sell snacks at the office, they already have a vending machine to sell snacks at the office. I have definitely already been to at least one gym that had supplements and protein bars and drinks and stuff available by vending machine. Like, does anybody who thinks there's a shortage of vending machine options ever go to an airport?
posted by Sequence at 10:23 PM on September 13 [13 favorites]


My favorite part about this - all the time, all the energy, all destroyed in less than 24 hours. We've gotten extraordinarily efficient at our turnaround time.

(Also, reminds me of the new Vonnegut story from the other day.)
posted by drewbage1847 at 10:26 PM on September 13 [15 favorites]


God damn I love how their explanation says the boxes will have different stuff in different places, like snacks and office supplies for an office, the idea being we will be paying for office supplies in their future?
posted by rhizome at 10:31 PM on September 13 [47 favorites]


In Portuguese, bodega has a completely different meaning - usually for very poorly made food, or a extremely grimy place, but according to an online dictionary, the last definition takes the game ball:

Something useless and without relevance.
posted by lmfsilva at 10:34 PM on September 13 [10 favorites]


Perhaps the most remarkable part of this was the sheer brazenness of stating that the goal is to take on small, independently owned stores. You know, the sorts of places that are generally regarded as the last bulwark of personality in a retail landscape that has gradually turned into giant cubes with high ceilings, or online shopping where you never have to interact with a human being other than maybe your delivery driver.

It's a completely incomprehensible selling point to me, on par with Soylent's "Don't you just hate eating food?"
posted by DoctorFedora at 10:38 PM on September 13 [62 favorites]


But will it have a bodega cat?
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 10:39 PM on September 13 [7 favorites]


Why does it seem like so many of these "audacious" start ups are aimed at markets where immigrants often are heavily represented? Cab drivers losing out to Uber, AirBnB getting people out of hotels, and now taking aim at bodegas. Is that like a goal of high tech? To allow the well off to avoid seeing those people all together?
posted by gusottertrout at 10:43 PM on September 13 [86 favorites]


I've spent some time both stocking and repairing vending machines. I get the feeling these guys have never worked in vending. They make a lot of hay out of their projected ability to dynamically alter the products available. Uh, everyone running a vending route already does this. In fact responding and anticipating what sells is one of the things that separates the successful and also rans.

Eliminating coin mechs could be worth while as they are a huge hassle but they've got a real customer buy in problem with their software. I hope they have a lot of VC funds to burn.

rhizome: "office supplies for an office, the idea being we will be paying for office supplies in their future?"

This sort of thing already exists but isn't usually leveraged to make employees pay. Rather it is a stock management system with tracking of who takes what without having to pay workers to man a crib. Fastenal for example already makes a locker unit that is accessed via key card or code entry.
Our FAST 10000SLSM lockers offer a fully secure locker solution for higher-value consumable supplies. The user simply enters his or her employee ID, makes a selection, and takes what’s needed. The system automatically senses the number of items taken and reports the details of the transaction – who, what, how much, and when.

Ideal for:

Hand & Power Tools
Laptops
Gauging
Calibrated & Serialized Tools
Equipment
Radios
... and much more

The system's software can manage and control all of the functions you need: check out/check in, loan periods, calibration and certification standards, forced returns (one-for-one exchange), required lockdowns, and more.
I worked at a mine where we could get safety glasses, gloves and resperator cartridges out of lockers as well as a myriad wear item tools like drill bits, driver bits, sand paper, cleaning supplies, etc. etc. out of machines.
posted by Mitheral at 10:45 PM on September 13 [33 favorites]


The first incarnation of Redbox (a joint venture of McDonald's and Coinstar)

Oh, but McDonalds needs to make a profit, and these guys will just burn somebody else's useless millions.

Also, the idea that construction supplies will one day be sold on construction sites, presumably to construction workers, seems to further impact the immigrants.

So let's wait for a presidential decree mandating the use of these vending machines.
posted by Laotic at 10:50 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


Why does it seem like so many of these "audacious" start ups are aimed at markets where immigrants often are heavily represented? Cab drivers losing out to Uber, AirBnB getting people out of hotels, and now taking aim at bodegas. Is that like a goal of high tech? To allow the well off to avoid seeing those people all together?

Do.. do you actually think Uber has perfected robot drivers, or...?
posted by Space Coyote at 11:00 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


It never ceases to amaze, the lengths techbros will go to not have to interact with other people, particularly people who are not a part of their carefully gated techbro circles. And I say this as a recovering techbro with significant social anxiety issues.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 11:02 PM on September 13 [54 favorites]


This is your reminder that automation is actually good because having a low-wage person give you your food doesn't make you a good woke person, it makes you complicit in exploitation.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:06 PM on September 13 [8 favorites]


Do.. do you actually think Uber has perfected robot drivers, or...?

They certainly want us to think they have, or will imminently.
posted by dilaudid at 11:06 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


Is that like a goal of high tech? To allow the well off to avoid seeing those people all together?
posted by gusottertrout
I'm gonna say… yes? Gentrification 2.0?
posted by DoctorFedora at 11:07 PM on September 13 [6 favorites]


This crossed my feed this morning and it was amazing how bad this idea was, appearing so soon after the demise of Juicero, another stupid idea that wasted millions of dollars. So much to unpack here, including but not limited to: the unmitigated gall of the name; the shitty business proposition; the fact that to work as advertised, they have to invent the most amazing supply chain software AND figure out how to buy things with a camera without shrinkage killing their margins immediately; the incredibly poor choice of "problem" to solve; reinventing the wheel.

They'll pivot to video in six to nine months with whatever funds they have left.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:19 PM on September 13 [5 favorites]


This is your reminder that automation is actually good because having a low-wage person give you your food doesn't make you a good woke person, it makes you complicit in exploitation.

As a low wage worker who needs to do crazy things like pay rent and eat, I'll take the exploitation over automation until something better arises. Put in the fix for the poor then add the automation instead of wishcasting it the other way around and maybe we can talk.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:19 PM on September 13 [90 favorites]


It's a completely incomprehensible selling point to me, on par with Soylent's "Don't you just hate eating food?"

While it's absolutely a niche product, you have to understand that for some people, the answer to this is "yes". Businesses do not exist only to serve completely neurotypical people. That's no kind of defense of this one, but please, people, when you see a product and you think, "Ugh, who could possibly want this?"--try to start by asking if it's possible that the answer could be "someone with a disability you don't have". This is totally a marketing fail, but that's no reason to use it as a jumping off point to dismiss that there are people who have legitimate issues with human interaction. There's plenty of holes to poke in this business model without turning it into a reason to trash people with anxiety, depression, autism, and so on.
posted by Sequence at 11:21 PM on September 13 [46 favorites]


Thank you Sequence, I've had so many Facebook fights with the people who post the "OMG you can buy pre-peeled oranges, how stupid is that?" shit, it's just exhausting.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:28 PM on September 13 [10 favorites]


Also, Soylent is just another option in the (pretty crowded) space of things people can eat. It doesn't really replace anything for people who weren't looking for something like it (e.g. meal replacement bars, smoothies, protein shakes, etc.) in the first place. Its existence causes no real negative consequences for the people who don't want it.

Bodega explicitly wants to replace a thing that doesn't really need to be replaced. Maybe if they positioned themselves as attacking crappy vending machines instead, they would be viewed more favorably, but they're the one that chose the brand and positioning they did, so I don't really feel sorry for them.
posted by Aleyn at 11:48 PM on September 13 [9 favorites]


I can't wait until they bust it for selling loose cigarettes.
posted by parmanparman at 12:15 AM on September 14 [20 favorites]


Yeah, I didn't mean that Soylent thing as an attack on the actual target market so much as just that I, personally, cannot actually grasp the appeal of the selling point being expressed. Obviously it's a bit different too, given that, as noted, Bodega is actively designed to undermine existing community stuff, rather than to simply offer another option. Sorry for the confusion! D:
posted by DoctorFedora at 12:18 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]


"If you fail to vigorously enforce your trademark of disruptive, hyper-capitalistic, cutting-edge technolibertarianism, you lose your trademark." [fake [?]]
posted by runcifex at 12:44 AM on September 14


I think it's a fascnating idea, and it is using the same principle as the Amazon Go store that was tested last year - you sign in when you enter (in this case open with an app), and then cameras record what you have taken, and charge you accordingly. I can see how they've used this 'Amazon Go as a Vending Machine!' concept to raise money.

But as everyone has pointed out, there are lots of drawbacks and flaws with their scheme. It doesn't feel like 'the next Uber' or whatever they dream it will be, more 'the next Juicero', when people work out how to hack it, or rather shoplift from it.
posted by DanCall at 12:49 AM on September 14


So, uh, about that name... it's not a very good trademark, right? It's already a generic term for shop, right from the beginning and they admit as much in their post on the name. I guess they could get protection in the vending machine space?
posted by surlyben at 12:49 AM on September 14 [5 favorites]


“The Corner Drug” or “The Five-and-Dime” would be terrible names too. Don’t pretend to be what you aren’t.
posted by Going To Maine at 1:08 AM on September 14


How to hack a Bodega:

1. Open Bodega.
2. Take out full box of protein powder (or whatever).
3. Place identical but empty box at the same space, to throw off that camera.
4. Close Bodega.
posted by sour cream at 1:15 AM on September 14 [3 favorites]


We used to have an ice cream truck that would stop on our street (I can still whistle the ice cream truck music). And before that, we had a horse cart selling bags of potatoes (I can still hear the driver's voice yelling "Potatoes! Potatoes!"). I want a little of that again, with various types of mobile stores that -- new bonus -- double as low-speed, short-distance public transportation for local kids and grannies. A circulatory system for people and produce.

A store/truck would go a block or two and stops for a certain known number of minutes at a comfortable stopping place. It would have a small number of seats, so you get on to hitch a short ride to the next stop. People carrying a priority card (old, disabled, etc.) from the city would get seating priority and you would have give up your seat to them if you didn't have such a card, maybe get off and wait for the next truck. The store/food truck/ice cream truck/bus would make money mainly by selling stuff, not carrying people, but they could charge non-priority people for rides.

So instead of (only) the (only) corner store, you would get corner stores coming to you. Some of them might wander through your part of town all day selling milk and bread and stuff while they shifted people around the neighborhood. Others might take a long route and show up relatively infrequently. And they could all head for certain larger stops to form instant outdoor markets. The city could coordinate route permits to make sure all neighborhoods were covered fairly.

And every truck would have a cat.
posted by pracowity at 2:13 AM on September 14 [50 favorites]


It's a completely incomprehensible selling point to me, on par with Soylent's "Don't you just hate eating food?"

Yeah the funny-sad thing is that if they had just refrained from saying their intention was to undermine an institution people have affection for (and being so cocky about it in their branding) I don't think the backlash would have been as strong. Though they'd still get dunked on for the level of hype behind a fancy vending machine, I'm sure.
posted by atoxyl at 2:13 AM on September 14 [5 favorites]


I'm also sure I'm the nine-thousandth person to mention that most of the good things one buys at the corner store are probably illegal or impractical to put in a vending box.
posted by atoxyl at 2:16 AM on September 14 [5 favorites]


rage against the vending machine
posted by thelonius at 2:22 AM on September 14 [37 favorites]


The only way I see this taking off is if the box has no way to see inside until it's open. That way they can put a Schrodinger's Bodega cat in it.
posted by Ducks or monkeys at 2:52 AM on September 14 [12 favorites]


My problem is, when I go into my little corner store/bodega (except owned by a very nice Yemenese chappie), he greets me with a smile and seems pleased to see me. Sometimes we fist bump when I leave. And, if they are out of my brand of cheap smokes, he will substitute a slightly better brand for the same price. So, long story short, is Bodega going to treat me like a bodega does? (Yes, I keep going back to that store for the service and the fact the staff makes me feel appreciated, plus I like supporting 100% local business whenever I can.)
posted by Samizdata at 2:56 AM on September 14 [27 favorites]


I just wish that I lived in a city that had bodegas. Maybe it's the scarcity of immigrants here or that they can't sell beer but independent markets are pretty rare.
posted by octothorpe at 3:03 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]


I probably shouldn’t link it here, but maybe you guys want to fund my Kickstarter, ‘Sabat. It’s a bat for smashing techbros and/or their dumb products.
posted by uncleozzy at 3:10 AM on September 14 [10 favorites]


Bodega explicitly wants to replace a thing that doesn't really need to be replaced. Maybe if they positioned themselves as [...]

Do they "explicitly" want this? Have "they" "positioned" themselves this way? Or are you just getting your rage on?

Of course FastCo etc. going for the clickbait headlines and saying they want to put bodegas out of business isn't helping them communicate either...

cf. https://blog.bodega.ai/so-about-our-name-aa5bff63a92d

It's just another overteched middleman thing for the upper class, not cartoon brogrammers feeding rat poison to your bodega's cat. c h i l l
posted by thedaniel at 3:23 AM on September 14


> Perhaps the most remarkable part of this was the sheer brazenness of stating that the goal is to take on small, independently owned stores.

Walmart was innovating that disruption fifty-something years ago.
posted by ardgedee at 3:32 AM on September 14 [3 favorites]


Said it before and I shall say it again,

90% of Silicon Valley startups:
A: Outsource this thing my mum/maid/parents did
OR
B: Remove interaction with people for this transaction
posted by Faintdreams at 3:41 AM on September 14 [60 favorites]


Samizdata: My problem is, when I go into my little corner store/bodega (except owned by a very nice Yemenese chappie), he greets me with a smile and seems pleased to see me. Sometimes we fist bump when I leave. And, if they are out of my brand of cheap smokes, he will substitute a slightly better brand for the same price. So, long story short, is Bodega going to treat me like a bodega does?

That reminds me of Jane Jacobs' point about the importance of people like bodega owners in keeping streets safe, friendly and walkable. They have an inherent interest in keeping an eye on the street, in knowing who the regulars are and not having things go sideways.
posted by clawsoon at 3:43 AM on September 14 [40 favorites]


Perhaps the most remarkable part of this was the sheer brazenness of stating that the goal is to take on small, independently owned stores.

Yeah, I quoted that back to them when I read their "so, we didn't want to take on corner stores" thing on Medium. That was REALLY satisfying.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:19 AM on September 14 [4 favorites]


So, long story short, is Bodega going to treat me like a bodega does?

Does cheap gamification tactics work? In that case, you have earned yourself 500 points on your first purchase, new Cat Mayor of Bodega Town #34574!
posted by Foci for Analysis at 4:23 AM on September 14 [9 favorites]


Do they "explicitly" want this? Have "they" "positioned" themselves this way? Or are you just getting your rage on?

Yes, yes, and.......yes.
posted by kuanes at 4:31 AM on September 14 [14 favorites]


The last time a startup threatened to damage at least one entire industry, the Wacky Races came back. Will continue to watch events unfold in my pajamas while eating cereal.
posted by BiggerJ at 4:32 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]


I don't get the hate for this. I'm as anti-VC-funded techbro as anyone, but this is just a vending machine. As far as I know, no one hates vending machines. (Do they?) Is this just a reaction to their douchey personas?
posted by kevinbelt at 4:43 AM on September 14


How to hack a Bodega:
1. Open Bodega.
2. Take out full box of protein powder (or whatever).
3. Place identical but empty box at the same space, to throw off that camera.
4. Close Bodega.


1. Put on ski mask
2. Smashy smashy the glass doors with a sledge hammer
3. Sell that shit on the street
4. Profit!
posted by NoMich at 5:00 AM on September 14 [6 favorites]


When I was a kid, we couldn't often afford name-brand food. My mom would often get generic, store-brand cookies and the ones that were fake Oreos were referred to in our house as 'noreos'.

I dub this the nodega.
posted by davelog at 5:03 AM on September 14 [21 favorites]


Do they "explicitly" want this? Have "they" "positioned" themselves this way? Or are you just getting your rage on?
from the Medium post that you linked to:

Rather than take away jobs, we hope Bodega will help create them. We see a future where anyone can own and operate a Bodega — delivering relevant items and a great retail experience to places no corner store would ever open.

So, they're explicitly saying that they want their product to be something that any person can purchase and set up anyway. Maybe even next to a corner store? Or between a corner store and a block of university dorms?

This is pretty classic tech hype bait-and-switch PR. "Look this is our vision. If other people do something different with that vision, using our product, we won't take responsibility for that. Even if it's immediately obvious before we've even launched. Responsibility is such a killjoy, my dudes."
posted by bl1nk at 5:08 AM on September 14 [5 favorites]


Yabbut no. Is this thing going to take food stamps? Nope. Is it going to be a good place for kids to spend their $1 on little candy and a mini-bag of takis? I submit that this is unlikely. Twenty varieties of fruit soda? Nope. Jojo potatoes and fried okra? Again, nope.

I live next to a small corner store and it would take, like, five of these bad boys to hold the essentials from that corner store.

The thing about techbros is that their death drive is really, really strong. Like, despite the fact that they are consciously gunning for immortality, it's clear that they don't actually want to be alive - they're all constantly trying to get rid of interactions with humans, eating, choosing things and just the average unpredictability of living even the safest and most comfortable life. On the surface, it looks like they hate equality - they want a life cosseted by servants and robots who do exactly what they want, no back-chat, tipping or complexities - but it's more than that, they actually hate being alive. What they want is themselves to become unconscious machines, flesh cogs that enable the work of algorithms and robots.
posted by Frowner at 5:15 AM on September 14 [63 favorites]


The only place I've ever spent significant time in which corner stores outnumber New York's bodegas is Tokyo, which has a 7-11, Lawson, Family Mart, Sunkus or something-or-other no more than two blocks from anywhere you will ever be.

Tokyo also has more vending machines than the rest of the world combined, by my estimation, to sell coffee, cigarettes, donuts, ice cream, batteries, cold drinks, flowers, phone chargers, and I'm sure anything else you might need at 3am.

The thing is... neither seems to be putting the other out of business.
posted by rokusan at 5:30 AM on September 14 [6 favorites]


My reaction to this is something like, "No, ex-googlers (shudder). You can't have that money. Other people need it. Fuck off. Go away."
posted by tillermo at 5:38 AM on September 14 [9 favorites]


> We want to bring commerce to places where commerce currently doesn’t exist.

This outlook on life always results in positive outcomes for everyone.
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:48 AM on September 14 [4 favorites]


How to hack a Bodega:

1. Open Bodega.
2. Take out full box of protein powder (or whatever) and remove contents.
3. Place identical but empty box at the same space, to throw off that camera.
4. Close Bodega.
posted by asok at 5:51 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]


The idea already exists and their idea to put glorified mini-bars everywhere is going to go nowhere. There's a study room in the library where I work where somebody was contracted to install a vending machine that sells nothing but study supplies (3x5 cards, post-its, pencils, etc.) It didn't put any of the places in the same neighborhood that sell the same things out of business yet.

Is it possible that coming up with a not-too-original idea, saying some inflammatory things about how your not-too-original idea is going to fundamentally shake up some industry, and collecting all manner of free outrage press, might be a good strategy to get get venture capital types to pay attention to your next big idea, whatever that may be? Because acting like a douchebag sure seems to be catnip to venture capital types.
posted by lagomorphius at 5:54 AM on September 14 [6 favorites]


Because acting like a douchebag sure seems to be catnip to venture capital types.

douchebag who dropped out of Harvard is the good drugs
posted by thelonius at 5:57 AM on September 14 [5 favorites]


Every time I read about one of these, it makes me wish I had made some different choices and was positioned to come up with an obviously dumb idea that still attracts enough venture capital money to set me up for life. Sure, it will flop, but I'd cash in along the way. The barrier to entry in terms of intelligence is obviously low, though only if you are a young dudebro.

They don't call them bodegas here, but I would go to the two closest convenience stores more often if they weren't so random about having fresh milk. If you are lucky, they got the delivery that day and the expiration dates are way in the future; most times, they haven't reordered in a while and the milk is heading towards becoming cheese. But the beer selections are fine and always fresh, so there is that at least.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:57 AM on September 14 [3 favorites]


Has this bodega got a club in the basement?

Didn't think so.
posted by asok at 6:05 AM on September 14


I want a little of that again, with various types of mobile stores that -- new bonus -- double as low-speed, short-distance public transportation for local kids and grannies. A circulatory system for people and produce.

Me too!! Every Thursday a couple of stalls selling produce set up in my subway station. There is also a guy with a fruit truck who sets up by the park every so often. These two little things make my life easier and more enjoyable.

I would *love* a return of the tea/lunch cart. I can't even describe how happy I'd be if I could buy a sandwich or a cup of tea from my desk.
posted by Stonkle at 6:16 AM on September 14 [6 favorites]


I'm not a New Yorker, but I don't see what's so special about bodegas. The few I've been in were dirty, expensive and the owners were surly. I'll take a Tokyo 7-11 store every time over that.
Didn't New York City used to have automats? Sandwiches and pie and fruit vending machines?
posted by Bee'sWing at 6:17 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]


When I was a kid, we couldn't often afford name-brand food. My mom would often get generic, store-brand cookies and the ones that were fake Oreos were referred to in our house as 'noreos'.

Same, but with cereal- we ate a lot of "Frosted Fakes"
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 6:24 AM on September 14 [7 favorites]


The automat only sold prepared and plated food. You'd walk in and there would be, like, a wall of little locked cubbyholes, and some would have a banana or a cup of water and a teabag next to it, and some would have a sandwich, and some would have a plate of pot roast or something. You dropped the coins into whatever slot you wanted and it unlocked the thing and you took out your food, sat down and ate.

A bodega is more like a small market; there may be a guy behind a counter that can make sandwiches for you, and some may have a couple of apples and some sad-looking heads of lettuce, but it's mostly for things like bags of chips, cans of soup or chili or beans, laundry detergent and toilet paper, etc.

And speaking as a New Yorker, it's a godsend when you have run out of dryer sheets when you're at the laundromat, or if you realize that you need toilet paper but you're too tired to go ten blocks to the main supermarket on the way home and pick it up; instead you can just stop in at the deli that is en route for your walk home from the subway and get two spare rolls (and one of those medium-size cans of pringles on the way, those are hard to find).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:27 AM on September 14 [6 favorites]


I'm not a New Yorker, but I don't see what's so special about bodegas. The few I've been in were dirty, expensive and the owners were surly.

Most strangers seem weird when you don't get to know them.

Bodegas are staples and cornerstones of the neighborhoods they're in. The owners may be surly, but they're reliable, and tend to soften when they get to know you. That, and I've noticed that what we in the Northeast consider "polite indifference" (aka, minding our own business and not bothering strangers) is considered surliness or rudeness to people who expect conversation all the time.

As far as expense, yeah, they're convenience stores. You're paying extra for convenience.
posted by explosion at 6:38 AM on September 14 [35 favorites]


Bodega explicitly wants to replace a thing that doesn't really need to be replaced.

And with such feeble stopgap technology too.

If I'm going to have any success at all with this business of lounging about on my couch watching lovingly curated TV commercials all day and never having to interact with another human being until my arse finally melds with the upholstery, I'm gonna need my every whim gratified instantly.

Actually, pre-instantly. Get on it, machine learning. I want a drone - a silent one, if you please - arriving discreetly at my elbow carrying every single thing I ever form a fleeting desire to have, approximately two seconds before I even know I want it. Fuck walking a hundred metres to the nearest "Bodega". Ain't nobody got time for that.

I'm rich, I'm idle, and I demand service, goddammit. These pressure sores are not going to salve themselves.
posted by flabdablet at 6:56 AM on September 14 [3 favorites]


Yes, I've only seen automats in old movies but they were competing against cafes and restaurants. I just don't understand why the article acts like it's a crime to compete against bodegas. Maybe it's because they hate silicon valley? When you've seen convenience stores done well the bodegas I've been in don't rate much sentimentality.
posted by Bee'sWing at 7:12 AM on September 14


Of course, if they really had a workable checkout solution Amazon would crush them

I feel like most startups these days are just hoping for a buyout. They patent the vending system, Amazon pays a ton and stocks the machines with their existing logistic infrastructure.

Yes, everything about this is very cynical.
posted by Think_Long at 7:17 AM on September 14 [3 favorites]


Look if I can't practice my Spanish and pet a kitty I'm not going there, okay? Okay.
posted by bile and syntax at 7:19 AM on September 14 [7 favorites]


"Most strangers seem weird when you don't get to know them"

I can't disagree any more strongly. I travel for work in a customer-facing role a lot, and as a result I meet quite a lot of strangers. Very few of them, from people in line at TSA to taxi drivers to hotel housekeeping to fast food drive-thru workers to the clients I'm meeting, give off a vibe that could be described as "surly". Most are actually quite friendly and chatty. Especially in a service industry, surliness or weirdness is rare. How that applies to bodegas, I can't say. I've only ever been to one, and that was 15 years ago. But if someone is giving off a surly vibe, it's probably because they're actually surly, and that's not common.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:23 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]


How to hack a Bodega:

1) Unplug the Bodega.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 7:28 AM on September 14 [4 favorites]


1. This whole thing is so perfectly outrageous that I'm half expecting it to turn out to be a Banksy work.

2. I have anxiety issues so I can understand the urge to use things like this and Amazon to remove the human element but it does us no favours. Local shops not only serve the community with their products and services, they also employ people in the community. These frictionless replacements simply extract wealth and send it elsewhere, it's like a type of colonialism.

3. My local corner shop doesn't have sandwiches, but the owner is a great seamstress. She even fixed a leather jacket that a so called professional had botched and for only like twenty dollars! Also, they have a dog, not a cat. The chillest dog.
posted by rodlymight at 7:33 AM on September 14 [9 favorites]


"Most strangers seem weird when you don't get to know them"

I can't disagree any more strongly. I travel for work in a customer-facing role a lot, and as a result I meet quite a lot of strangers. Very few of them, from people in line at TSA to taxi drivers to hotel housekeeping to fast food drive-thru workers to the clients I'm meeting, give off a vibe that could be described as "surly". Most are actually quite friendly and chatty. Especially in a service industry, surliness or weirdness is rare. How that applies to bodegas, I can't say. I've only ever been to one, and that was 15 years ago. But if someone is giving off a surly vibe, it's probably because they're actually surly, and that's not common.


Tends to be a self-correcting market. I've had dealings with three different local bodega-like businesses that were wonderful until new (a different owners) took over and treated everyone who walked in the door like they were garbage. Two of them are out of business.
posted by lagomorphius at 7:37 AM on September 14 [2 favorites]


I can't imagine a place where this thing could be installed near where I live since it doesn't look weather safe and if they put it somewhere like the subway station, it would last about a day before someone destroyed it.
posted by octothorpe at 7:40 AM on September 14


Japan has huge numbers of vending machines that sell everything you can think of. Because vandalism is rare they can be found in isolated places. And yet, there are convenience stores all over too, along with proper grocery stores, usually near train stations. Perhaps because these convenience stores have to compete against ubiquitous vending machines, they are quite nice. It's been a while since I visited Japan but I remember 7-11s as cheaper than eating out.
posted by Bee'sWing at 7:41 AM on September 14 [4 favorites]


Vending machines peaked when bowling alleys started selling socks in them and I'll hear no argument otherwise.
posted by Emmy Rae at 7:44 AM on September 14 [5 favorites]


The arguments that focus on how charming and beloved bodegas are besides the point for me. I don't care if my bodega can't give me an egg-and-cheese sandwich at 4 am or if the owners are friendly and will talk to me about life and the universe in addition to selling me toilet paper. The guys who run the bodega right below my apartment building are super friendly and have started striking up conversations now that they recognize me as a late-night regular... but for my socially anxious ass, that's a bug, not a feature. That is to say, for all intents and purposes, a glorified vending machine would in all likelihood suit my personality a lot more. (Well, except for the absence of bodega cats.)

But I can't get behind a product or a general startup culture that seems to revel in the idea of "disruption" without taking any consideration of the working class community (often immigrant/POC-owned to boot) they aim to displace. I still haven't forgotten the wash.io debacle.
posted by imnotasquirrel at 7:45 AM on September 14 [4 favorites]


One aspect of this that hit a nerve for me is how the founders are gushing over the possibility of using MACHINE LEARNING to help decide what goes in these boxes. I work in a field where machine learning is both (a) a valid technique that can be used to solve a small set of problems and (b) a buzzword that's used to obtain funding for a much larger set of problems. My gut tells me that this will fall squarely into category (b).

Any idiot can tell you without applying machine learning algorithms that you'll want certain products in certain locations, but the idea that they're trying to sell people on is that it will find hidden patterns in geographic regions, or between installations that have similar user bases across different regions, or add in seasonal items when they'll be needed... That makes sense on paper. However, with these boxes having such a small number of items and a small quantity of each, the number of successful "hits" for the ML models is probably going to be relatively modest, and for the most part, obvious things that human beings looking at the data would have noticed anyway ("hey, flu season usually starts around October, so let's get some TheraFlu in there in late September"... "oh, and ibuprofen sales spike on weekends in locations next to establishments that serve alcohol.") But people have this idea in their head that they can just throw ML techniques at a noisy dataset and BOOM magic happens. It's rarely that simple, and if the way they rolled this out is any indication, I don't see them harnessing the complexity enough to make it work.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:45 AM on September 14 [18 favorites]


I've sat through a couple presentations from guys like this because I work in a place that guys like this think would be a good venue for whatever it is they're peddling.

The real difference between Uber and guys like this is that Uber leverages something they don't own - other peoples' cars. Guys like this fail to acknowledge and then get destroyed by the costs they're going to incur making and supporting their idea.

They have unshakeable confidence and are always working off of the smallest of data sets and the greatest Indigogo fund-raiser in the history of Indigogo. If you ask them who supports their wonderful device now and who will support it in the future when they've deployed 100,000 wonderful devices, the answer is "A guy in the dorm" and "Uh..." It's a tall order to be destroying some industry segment (because they always are) and not think about the logistics.

Or they maybe have thought it through, and their wonderful device which is in some sense "free" has a special introductory yearly service fee we'd better get in on which is way more than anybody wants to pay. And yet they will sit there and claim everybody in the world and their cousin has signed up ... except for us. And we're going to miss out!
posted by lagomorphius at 8:11 AM on September 14 [7 favorites]


You could just put a bodega cat inside each of the machines. (But it would probably knock everything over.)

Seriously, though, I hate dealing with people and I still think this is a horrible idea.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:17 AM on September 14 [2 favorites]


I'm not a New Yorker, but I don't see what's so special about bodegas. The few I've been in were dirty, expensive and the owners were surly.

I'm not a New Yorker, and our local bodega is dirty, expensive compared to places like Target and Walmart, and the teenage cashier was a kinda surly, but then we met the older female relatives who were involved, and they realized that we lived around the corner and that I was wildly pregnant. Four months later, Mr. Machine goes in there, and when he tells them that the baby is fine but gassy, there is a huge to do, and they insist on running back and bringing him, for free, some of the family herbal relief for gassy babies, which was basically chamomille.

If you don't rely on one day in, day out, it's hard to see the differences between them and a slick corporate package where none of the workers sleep above the store, and they all turn over every six months anyways. Once you do, though, the idea that somebody views all that warmth and personality and Northeastern style kindness as being something to be replaced with a soulless machine? Yeah, no.

The teenager is still surly when she works, tho. They recently moved her back to the deli counter, where she wears a hair net and is surly both to ordering customers, and the cousin who is old enough to work the meat slicer/deep fryer.
posted by joyceanmachine at 8:25 AM on September 14 [9 favorites]


It doesn't feel like 'the next Uber'

Uber doesn't even feel like the next Uber.
posted by mikeand1 at 8:31 AM on September 14


Also, they have a dog, not a cat. The chillest dog.

I could pet a dog and practice my Spanish, that would be okay too.
posted by bile and syntax at 8:35 AM on September 14 [2 favorites]


One aspect of this that hit a nerve for me is how the founders are gushing over the possibility of using MACHINE LEARNING to help decide what goes in these boxes. I work in a field where machine learning is both (a) a valid technique that can be used to solve a small set of problems and (b) a buzzword that's used to obtain funding for a much larger set of problems. My gut tells me that this will fall squarely into category (b).

Seconded. I mean, a computer can't even learn how to reliably come up with names for a pub.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:41 AM on September 14 [4 favorites]


Idea: self-driving cars that use machine learning to decide where your corporate masters want you to be you want to go.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:53 AM on September 14


Vending machines peaked when bowling alleys started selling socks in them and I'll hear no argument otherwise.

I currently have some of my landscape postcards in a vending machine in a bar. There are also mixtapes in that vending machine. And even portable tape decks to play those mixtapes. There's also some belt buckles and sunglasses and other hipster shit.

I've also seen a vending machine stocked full of electronics and electronics components. Stuff like a spool of solder, Adruino boards and shields, Adafruit boards, even SSDs, flash memory, batteries, tools, chips and other discrete components. It had enough stuff in it you could effectively build an entire computer, robot, server or media player or other advanced device out of kits and components.
posted by loquacious at 8:53 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]


My vending machine story. It may or not be relevant.

In the junior year of my college career a vending machine appeared in the basement of our house. It was a fraternity with 35-40 guys, but that's not really important. But whoever owned the machine convinced the house manager that this was a winning deal. Free access to a vending machine! We'll give you a % of the take and we'll all win.

I could picture the owner's thoughts as he bought dozens of machines and dreamed of placing them in every private house and dorm on campus and raking it in. Easy money.

The machine itself was incredibly flimsy and cheap. When you look at an outdoor vending machine like a Dixie-Narco, look really hard at it. It's literally built like a tank and about as heavy. Tipped vending machines kill more people than sharks.

So when you put a piece-of-shit metal and plexiglass box in a house full of teenagers with nothing to do, they figure out pretty quickly that you can press hard on the front window and it bends inward.

The machine was cleaned out in 2 hours. Needless to say, the machine disappeared a week later and never came back.

When I see the pictures of this Bodega machine, I see the empty spirals in the blown-out beige box sitting in the basement of Sigma Pi.
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:56 AM on September 14 [13 favorites]


people have this idea in their head that they can just throw ML techniques at a noisy dataset and BOOM magic happens. It's rarely that simple

although, to be fair, the opening of the VC money taps does look a bit like magic.
posted by flabdablet at 9:01 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]


Based on my experience, the Bodegabros machine needs two things to replicate local neighborhood stores :
    1. It needs to sell about a million different lottery tickets. 2. It needs that guy around the corner, leaning on the wall and selling drugs.
I dunno, those cabinets are pretty small. Maybe they can get a stool, or the drug selling guy can crouch down and have a smoke?
posted by happyroach at 9:08 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]


> 2. It needs that guy around the corner, leaning on the wall and selling drugs.

Snark aside, the Silk Road (despite 1.0's shutdown) normalized buying drugs online for anyone moderately technical with access to the Internet. "Disrupting" the DEA is toxic phrasing, but who here is happy about the War on Drugs?
posted by fragmede at 9:25 AM on September 14


No-one else find the word "surly" being thrown about in this discussion even a little bit crass? Particularly when we're talking about stores that are minority-owned, and cultural insensitivity, it comes across as a really dumb thing to say.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 9:28 AM on September 14 [4 favorites]


One aspect of this that hit a nerve for me is how the founders are gushing over the possibility of using MACHINE LEARNING to help decide what goes in these boxes.

This part I am very cynical about, because they'll lack a key part of the necessary learning: feedback for what is not there. There is a deeply beloved 5&10 in my hometown, Ayers. And what it is known for is that whatever you need, they've got it. Not in bulk, except maybe things like gardening soil and so on in season, but they've got it. And the way that happens is for decades whenever someone has asked for something they didn't have, they ordered a few. And as long as other people needed it occasionally, they kept it around. So it is deeply and precisely tuned for the specific wants and needs of the neighborhood, full of obscure pieces of hardware for mid-century homes and so on.

And because it has been owned by only two families, and has clerks that have worked there for over half a century, they know exactly where everything is in a very densely packed store, and if someone comes in with a vague need they can instantly figure out what it is that will solve their problem. And again, machines can get that first part pretty well, but not the second.
posted by tavella at 9:36 AM on September 14 [12 favorites]


It had enough stuff in it you could effectively build an entire computer, robot, server or media player or other advanced device out of kits and components.

That sounds very cool, but you get a certain aesthetic effect from a vending machine which is stocked with identical versions of one of the world's most basic items in every row.
posted by Emmy Rae at 9:52 AM on September 14


I really wish there were bodegas in Portland, especially since a lot of the local convenience stores are going out of business due to development. I love my old neighborhood's market (Alberta Market in NE, s/o to Chris, the owner) because they have amazing fried chicken and jojos and the people that work there know me. For me, as somebody with social anxiety, to know that there are people that respond warmly and welcoming to me is a very big deal, as well as knowing that there are people somewhere that recognize me in case of emergency and such.

Away from the social aspects though, I wish we had bodegas. I'd love it if we had more cheap, late night food options, especially sandwiches.
posted by gucci mane at 10:05 AM on September 14 [2 favorites]


lagomorphius: If you ask them who supports their wonderful device now and who will support it in the future when they've deployed 100,000 wonderful devices, the answer is "A guy in the dorm" and "Uh..." It's a tall order to be destroying some industry segment (because they always are) and not think about the logistics.

That's a great point, and it reminds me of The Melt (previously), which was going to disrupt grilled cheese. Doing something that's already been done, but "on the Internet" (and "with machine learning"), isn't a magical solution to the physical problems that have to be solved when you're making and distributing physical things.

Amazon is the biggest disruptor of distributing physical things, and guess what? They have always outsourced the hardest part of the problem, last-mile delivery, to the post office and Fedex. Ditto with almost all tech companies (with Apple stores being a rare exception). Serving grilled cheese and stocking vending machines are last-mile problems. You need a fleet of people with hairnets and overalls.
posted by clawsoon at 10:43 AM on September 14 [4 favorites]


No-one else find the word "surly" being thrown about in this discussion even a little bit crass? Particularly when we're talking about stores that are minority-owned, and cultural insensitivity, it comes across as a really dumb thing to say.

Can you elaborate? "Surly" strikes me as a subset of owner/operators of retail businesses, not of immigrants. I could maybe, at a stretch, see some classism in the perception of 'surly' vs. 'snobbish,' but I'd resolve that by calling them all surly.
posted by ernielundquist at 11:07 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]


When I just Googled surly, "a surly shop assistant" was the second example they offered. But maybe that's just the sort of culturally insensitive definition a couple of ex-Googlers would plant on our internets, eh?

Anyway, I still want ice cream and potato trucks ferrying armadas of grannies and children around the city at a leisurely rate. Slowly but surly.
posted by pracowity at 11:30 AM on September 14 [3 favorites]


Can you elaborate? "Surly" strikes me as a subset of owner/operators of retail businesses, not of immigrants.

If we weren't talking about bodega-owners who, I guess, are mostly immigrants, generational owners of the same places, I probably would have never have raised the point. Hey, if no-one else saw an issue with it I'm fine with that. But, in this context, it did strike me as... off, particularly how often it was used here.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 11:59 AM on September 14 [3 favorites]


For everyone not clear on how this venture is supposed to make money because of the logistical challenges, the lede was a bit buried.
"...By studying their buying behavior..."
This is the reason VCs are dumping money into this venture. Data on how, when, what and how much the affluent do and spend. If you think the VCs are dumb enough to think they will reap rewards on margins of selling 2am mouthwash and condoms you are deeply mistaken about where they think the value of this company sits. full stop.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 12:43 PM on September 14 [6 favorites]


ice cream and potato trucks ferrying armadas of grannies and children

Slowly and Surly.
posted by clew at 1:13 PM on September 14 [1 favorite]


The VCs were playing nine-dimensional chess with the Juicero and they're playing nine-dimensional chess with this, I say!
posted by gilrain at 1:17 PM on September 14 [1 favorite]


But, in this context, it did strike me as... off, particularly how often it was used here.

It was specifically brought up as a criticism of bodegas.

I'm not aware of a surliness being associated with a particular stereotype of urban non-white people -- like, when I think about it fitting into a stereotype, I usually think of it as being part of the stereotypes of retail workers of all races. Maybe stereotypes about Eastern Europeans, or working class people, both of which are usually coded white?

Then again, I'm in Philadelphia, where surliness is an all-around prized civic tradition, much like wearing sweatpants in public and popping fire hydrants on hot summer days.
posted by joyceanmachine at 1:18 PM on September 14 [1 favorite]


I assumed that surly was just referring to the general stereotype of New Yorkers.
posted by octothorpe at 1:27 PM on September 14 [1 favorite]


It's okay, everyone. Taylor Swift can fight 'em.
posted by mosst at 1:43 PM on September 14


Why does it seem like so many of these "audacious" start ups are aimed at markets where immigrants often are heavily represented? .... Is that like a goal of high tech? To allow the well off to avoid seeing those people all together?

Corollary to "if you're not the customer, you're the product:" if you're neither the customer nor the product, you're the friction.
posted by zippy at 1:49 PM on September 14 [6 favorites]


I just learned how to say bo-DAY-gah and HOUSE-tin street. From TAY-lr SWIFT. For FUCK'S sake.
posted by pracowity at 1:52 PM on September 14


I, for one, don't think surly is any kind of slur.
posted by surlyben at 2:12 PM on September 14 [6 favorites]


I'm not aware of a surliness being associated with a particular stereotype of urban non-white people

Yet it's been repeatedly used in this discussion. Granted, maybe it could be used to explain the motives of all staff at American establishments, but in this discussion it's being used to explain the motives of employees of bodegas.

Maybe stereotypes about Eastern Europeans

Maybe "swarthy" is the adjective you're looking for.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 2:27 PM on September 14 [2 favorites]


Surly this.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:40 PM on September 14 [1 favorite]


Yet it's been repeatedly used in this discussion.

I actually only see surly being used as a descriptor twice, with all the other times (26 at this count, including surlyben's username) it comes up being quotes or discussion of those posts, and mostly with a tone of 'that has not been my experience'.
For the record, it has not been my experience that convenience store workers are surly. Record stores now, woof.
posted by rodlymight at 4:37 PM on September 14 [1 favorite]


"My parents are little people! Little swarthy people!"

In that context, it was Greek Americans who were being talked about.
posted by lackutrol at 5:13 PM on September 14


I don't think "surly" is racially coded. You could argue it's ageist to teens, to whom it's often applied.
posted by emjaybee at 5:26 PM on September 14 [1 favorite]


You know that "surly" just means "cranky", right?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:53 PM on September 14 [3 favorites]


That reminds me of Jane Jacobs' point about the importance of people like bodega owners in keeping streets safe, friendly and walkable. They have an inherent interest in keeping an eye on the street, in knowing who the regulars are and not having things go sideways.

Not only that, but Ali (really his name) seems to take a fair bit of pride in keeping his store presentable and in good condition. so broken window theory (is that what it is properly called) applies too.
posted by Samizdata at 6:36 PM on September 14


You could just put a bodega cat inside each of the machines. (But it would probably knock everything over.)

Seriously, though, I hate dealing with people and I still think this is a horrible idea.


Obviously NOT a cat owner, or you would know better about saying "probably".
posted by Samizdata at 6:38 PM on September 14 [1 favorite]


Does cheap gamification tactics work? In that case, you have earned yourself 500 points on your first purchase, new Cat Mayor of Bodega Town #34574!

Yeah, no. Unless they add a robotic arm to offer me the cheerful fist bump I offer Ali when the opportunity presents itself. Also, I can't tease the Bodega© about being lazy when it is playing with his grandson, can I?
posted by Samizdata at 6:44 PM on September 14 [1 favorite]


Most strangers seem weird when you don't get to know them.

Bodegas are staples and cornerstones of the neighborhoods they're in. The owners may be surly, but they're reliable, and tend to soften when they get to know you. That, and I've noticed that what we in the Northeast consider "polite indifference" (aka, minding our own business and not bothering strangers) is considered surliness or rudeness to people who expect conversation all the time.

As far as expense, yeah, they're convenience stores. You're paying extra for convenience.


I have never had a surly clerk anywhere. OTOH, I do not treat them solely as a vehicle for the satisfaction of my needs, either.

Saved my cookies once, at a Speedway. My pay envelope fell out of my coat pocket as I was leaving. One of the clerks saw another customer pick it up. When that customer came to the counter, she promptly snagged it out of his hand and stuck it in the safe. When I called around later trying to find it, they cheerfully told me of their accomplishment and reassured me I could pick it up whenever a manager was on site, and told me the next nearest time that was to be. When I went in, the manager happily handed me the envelope and not a dollar was missing. They refused any reward other than my profusely grateful thanks. Of course, I tracked down the regional manager's contact information and had a lovely talk with them about the people at that store. (Amazes me how confused management gets when people take the time to call in with GOOD feedback.)

(Also, since i often came it late, the night clerk would "forget" to pull two of the jalapeno cheddar dogs off the roller grill during the normal cleaning and shutdown, which occurred around 10 minutes before I would usually get there.)

That clinched the use of said store as my sole place for gas and snacks from then on (until the chain got bought out and none of those people were working there any more).

Treat the staff with a smile, some dignity, and tacit acknowledgement that they are human too, and everybody wins. And I am NOT known for being particularly good about dealing with people, nor do I always enjoy it.
posted by Samizdata at 7:01 PM on September 14 [4 favorites]


I don't come across surly people in retail/customer interactions often but when I do it often seems like it is in small business situations where you are dealing with the owner or a member of the family. I find that the range of clerk emotions at chain stores range from indifferent to pleasant whereas small business owners run the whole gamut from actively surly to effusively positive/very warm. Here in Cincinnati there are two different Indian restaurants within a mile of each other and one is owned by a guy who makes you feel like you are ruining his day by ordering food and the other is always upbeat and inviting. It is easy to see which one I choose to go to.
posted by mmascolino at 7:37 PM on September 14 [2 favorites]


My next startup is going to disrupt the fuck out of lemonade stands.
posted by bigbigdog at 8:28 PM on September 14 [4 favorites]


"God damn I love how their explanation says the boxes will have different stuff in different places, like snacks and office supplies for an office, the idea being we will be paying for office supplies in their future?"
Maybe I'm still to stuck in the pre-distopic era, but presumably they will invoice the company for office supplies and/or the snacks rather than workers.

For years in molecular biology labs there is a neat system where companies will place a refrigerator in an academic lab within a large building and make it such that, if there is an enzyme or reagent that you need you can just go down to get it, and fill out a form that will get them to invoice you for it. A lot of what makes it make sense is that the company gets to save on the expensive express shipping that these fragile products require through bulk shipping to replace stuff that people use all at once, but it also makes buying from them super convenient.

I could imagine a large office building filled with small companies that lack their own dedicated logistics giving a closet to an office supplier so that small offices could more conveniently acquire supplies.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:10 AM on September 15


My next startup is going to disrupt the fuck out of lemonade stands.

Like Uber, but for elementary school bake sales.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:15 AM on September 15


> Maybe I'm still to stuck in the pre-distopic era, but presumably they will invoice the company for office supplies and/or the snacks rather than workers.

I know offices where the supplies are rationed and every pen and paperclip has to be checked out. Each employee has a firm quota on consumption and their managers are billed when the quota is exceeded. These are places where cash/credit based vending machines would be embraced eagerly.

And public school teachers in the U.S. spend an average of $500 out of pocket per year without reimbursement on supplies for themselves and their students, and some spend thousands of dollars. (And where I live, the Republicans had cut reimbursements for annual expenses in half back in 2011, in a state that is already one of the worst in education funding.) Again, cash/credit vending machines would be exploiting a system that effectively already exists.
posted by ardgedee at 6:42 AM on September 15 [3 favorites]


“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.”

Oh, sweet summer children, no. The Real World is not your cushy former office at Google. Go the fuck outside and look around. I don't want a goddamned vending machine in my yard.

(Google used to have a rule that there would always be food within 100 feet of you. Then it went to 200 feet. I think they've gotten over themselves in that regard and now make their employees walk a bit for their snackage, but that's where this "always 100 feet away from you" nonsense is from.)

No, you can't have my credit card information. I'll walk up to the corner and shoot the shit with the sweet old Indian dude who always has something nice to say to buy my lottery tickets or emergency caffeine (he saved my ass when my coffeepot died and I had to wait a couple days for the replacement to arrive) or the delightful samosas the Missus makes fresh every day, and pay cash, thanks.
posted by MissySedai at 7:44 AM on September 15 [6 favorites]


I have to admit, reading the many comments here and elsewhere about how people live their bodegas, I can't but think about the many comments post-Amazon about how much people love book stores.

Like, this vending machine is terrible. But our love of the corner store is going to be insufficient if a better vending machine comes.
posted by Going To Maine at 7:55 AM on September 15 [1 favorite]


I'm just thinking about the vending machines on my campus, where--especially later in the evenings--there's basically nonstop beeps and banging and wails of frustration because the vending machine has either rejected someone's dollar, stolen their money, or the bag of M&Ms has gotten caught on a rung and not fallen through to the pick-up slot. Or, someone has gotten their hand caught while trying to reach through and steal something. Why on earth would I want to hear that within 100 feet of me at all times?

Meanwhile, I think that someone who admits that I've only ever been to one, and that was 15 years ago isn't really basing their condemntation of bodega personalities on very strong evidence. And as someone who is often thought of as surly herself, I really don't care if a vendor is surly as long as I get what I'm in there for. Particularly if it's after 11pm because I certainly don't want any smalltalk then (but bonus if I can pet a cat)!
posted by TwoStride at 7:59 AM on September 15 [5 favorites]


I have never had a surly clerk anywhere.

I see you haven't been to Boston.
posted by zippy at 8:32 AM on September 15 [4 favorites]


I always have to remember my New Jersey upbringing and curtail my expectations of friendly smalltalk when I go into any retail establishment on a visit to the east coast.
posted by octothorpe at 8:53 AM on September 15 [1 favorite]


I don't want a goddamned vending machine in my yard.

I remember visiting Germany the first time, and this was the early 2000s mind you, and they still had cigarette vending machines on residential streets.
posted by JoeZydeco at 10:40 AM on September 15 [1 favorite]


Maybe I'm still to stuck in the pre-distopic era, but presumably they will invoice the company for office supplies and/or the snacks rather than workers.

Nah, I can totally see something whereby workers pay for the office supplies with the dodge that "and then you can add that to your T&E expense reimbursement report when you submit it", because then it covers their ass but less than 100% of the workers will turn in those receipts because SERIOUSLY, what a pain, and the company will come out ahead of the game.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:59 AM on September 15 [3 favorites]


"Meanwhile, I think that someone who admits that I've only ever been to one, and that was 15 years ago isn't really basing their condemntation of bodega personalities on very strong evidence."

Did you read the rest of my comment? The entire point was that, in my experience, most people are NOT surly. I'm not condemning anything.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:38 PM on September 15


My apologies, must have conflated you with another commenter.
posted by TwoStride at 8:15 PM on September 15


If vending machines were the total future then Lawson's in Japan would not be in business. The thing with Amazon is that it sells so much more than books and bookstores could not compete with that kind of juggernaut that has other things to add to the bottom line like AWS. What I see being pitched is a vending machine.. A digital vending machine.. I am not sure what improvement it gets me besides proximity and invasion of my privacy.
posted by jadepearl at 10:38 PM on September 15 [2 favorites]


Lemmn is serious about our mission: to bring the classic lemonade stand experience to everyone, no matter the season or location. Our automated juice station vending machines prepare fresh-squeezed lemonade straight from our proprietary juicing pouches.

And what's a lemonade stand without an adorable child? Every juice station features a live video connection with one of our hand-selected moppets from all over the world. These children are adorable, and they really know how to upset a lemonade with cookies or a delicious moist brownie.

Receiving no less than five percent of everything they sell, these kids are lifting their families right out of poverty. And most are so excited they'll work that stand ten, twelve hours a day! So you can enjoy a delicious cold lemonade anytime—and you can also feel great about yourself, these kids, and the planet, too.

Rethink your thirst. Think Lemmn.
posted by bigbigdog at 1:05 PM on September 17 [5 favorites]


May I introduce BroBurber, the next step in disrupting the fast food industry.

We have distilled down the fast food experience, and removed all the annoying elements of fast-food; Instead of driving to a greasy restaurant, interacting with people, and having to wait in line with other customers, we will install quiet, clean BroBurger kiosks in easy-access locations, such high-end apartments or internet startups.

An interactive menu will display our full range or delicious looking burgers, fries and drinks (orders can also be placed remotely). Payment can be made with cash, card, bitcoin Paypal, Patreon, or any other money transfer. And then, after processing the order, here's the truly clever, disruptive technology- we won't give the buyer anything! A bell will go ding, and the kiosk will reset for the next customer!

Maximum profits, minimum expenses!
posted by happyroach at 8:02 PM on September 17


Today is the first day of the rest of history. Time will be divided into before Buskrr and after. Buskrr will turn the transit-related entertainment market on its literal ears.

We are committed to bringing you the delight of discovering performances you never knew you'd love, with the ease of electronic payments. Buskrr solves forever the eternal problem: how to demonstrate publicly just how much you care for the arts, while preserving the net worth you've worked so hard to achieve.

Cash money in the guitar case? That's -your- money. Put it to work for you, only with Buskrr. Now you can tip with Bitcoin, Dogecoin or Ethereum. Or take
the future by the horns and ride the Buskrr train right to your -own- digital currency. That's right, every time you donate to one of our crowdsourced virtual entertainers, our new proprietary secret computer cloud creates another digital currency.

"I just paid you forty Dougs!"

Buskrr: Cash in, art out
posted by bigbigdog at 8:55 PM on September 17 [2 favorites]


Not disruptive enough.

What we clearly need is a network of automated Buskrr boxes that automatically hack the phones of anybody within wifi range, extract their musical preferences, and play the single most popular song over and over at ear shattering volume for hours at a stretch.

The idea is that eventually, nobody will have to walk more than 100 feet to get to their nearest Buskrr box's virtual guitar case, which will automatically calculate the most popular donation amount and silently extract it from every nearby phone using a beefed-up NFC transceiver.
posted by flabdablet at 1:21 AM on September 18 [2 favorites]


Oh fuck everything.
posted by aspersioncast at 4:07 PM on September 18


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