Shove Your Manufactured 'Bodega' Vending Machine Outrage

The day everybody got angry at the equivalent of an upgraded hotel mini-bar



Today's lesson in "branding in an era of instant outrage": If you are perceived as a "tech bro," tread very carefully.

Yesterday, Fast Company introduced the world to a couple of former Google employees who are developing what appears to be a logical tech upgrade to the old vending machine. Here's how Fast Company's writer describes what it does:

[It] sets up five-foot-wide pantry boxes filled with non-perishable items you might pick up at a convenience store. An app will allow you to unlock the box and cameras powered with computer vision will register what you've picked up, automatically charging your credit card. The entire process happens without a person actually manning the "store."

If an average young American saw one of these during a trip to a Japan, they'd probably take a picture of it and post in Instagram and talk about how adorable it is. "They have vending machines for everything!" they might say.

But the two guys behind the company decided to call their innovation "Bodega," after the small neighborhood stores in cities like New York and Los Angeles, and somehow all hell broke loose.

Part of the problem was with the way Fast Company reported on Bodega:

It's the story, not the company, that pushes the idea that this vending machine is a threat to mom-and-pop shops. The founders merely present their tool as a convenience for places like offices, gyms, and dorms.

It's true that if such a machine is placed in an apartment building, it could occasionally save somebody a trip to the nearby store. But even if these little pantries are extremely responsive in adjusting to the residents' needs, there is absolutely no way they're going to replace a bodega in most communities. It's simply not possible.

But few actually took the time question the assumption presented by Fast Company and instead decided to be angry on Twitter, accusing the Bodega bros of facilitating gentrification and cultural appropriation and trying to destroy small businesses. And that allowed other media sites—like Teen Vogue here—to piggyback with lazy "here are some angry tweets" journalism.

So let's state what should have been immediately obvious to anybody who stopped and looked at this thing for a moment: These "Bodega" machines are more likely to show up in the offices of Teen Vogue than in a community where lower-income or working-class minorities walk to their corner stores.

I should know. I live in one of those very communities here in Mid-City Los Angeles. I'm the minority in my own primarily Latino and African-American neighborhood. The bodega a couple blocks over is run by an Indian family (so please stifle the screams of "cultural appropriation"). This is a neighborhood of houses, small apartment buildings, and quadplexes, so there are very few places in my neighborhood where these machines would work the way the company's founders envision at all. And that holds true for huge swathes of the Los Angeles area. The Daily Beast's Spencer Ackerman claimed on Twitter that such machines might create "food deserts." Well, their deployment in my neighborhood would not lead to a food desert. It would lead to Bodega losing money.

So this is not a story about gentrification or "evil tech bros" at all. Nevertheless, CEO and co-founder of Bodega Paul McDonald had to go on the internet to apologize for the fact that people were just reflexively outraged for no reason. No, McDonald says, they're not trying to put corner stores out of business:

Corner stores have been fixtures of their neighborhoods for generations. They stock thousands of items, far more than we could ever fit on a few shelves. Their owners know what products to carry and in many cases who buys what. And they're run by people who in addition to selling everything from toilet paper to milk also offer an integral human connection to their patrons that our automated storefronts never will.

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

If automation ever replaces mom-and-pop stores in poor neighborhoods, that'll be because it's able to offer more goods more cheaply and more conveniently than the stores do, not because it offers less. And that would be to the benefit of these communities and the poor people who live in them, not their detriment.

Enough with this paranoia about Silicon Valley tech guys plotting to deprive poor people of goods. If one of these upgrading vending machines shows up at my neighborhood gym—part of a corporate chain that is priced cheaply enough that working-class folks can join up—I'll definitely check it out. Especially if they stock it with cashews.

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120 responses to “Shove Your Manufactured 'Bodega' Vending Machine Outrage

    1. Have any of these people even been to a bodega?

      Really shows how out of touch these idiots are, if they think this threatens corner stores.

      1. What’s that, punk? Do you want to start something today? Do you? My afternoon latte is slightly burnt and my dick itches. But hey, if you want to get it on, we can get it on.

        Well, we can get it on after you repair your tractor.

        1. MJGreen: the yokel’s yokel. Tony sure called that one.

          1. Huh? Now you want a piece? Are you sure, you little bitch? I am not having a good day – I didn’t get the extra soy sauce I ordered with my sushi, and my mother wants me to call her later.

            How about it, Robert E.? You still want some?

            1. You are mixing sushi and lattes? No wonder your dick itches.

  1. “Corner stores have been fixtures of their neighborhoods for generations”
    Independent bookstores
    Hardware stores
    Full service gas stations
    Buggy whip makers

    1. Lamp posts

    2. Roaming feral pigs

    3. Poop, lots and lots of poop.

    4. Transporter room technicians who had to slide a control up a panel instead of just standing in the room while the computer does all the work. How’s a hard-working Irish stereotype supposed to provide for his shrewish wife and kids?

      -progressives in 2367

  2. I should know. I live in one of those very communities here in Mid-City Los Angeles. I’m the minority in my own primarily Latino and African-American neighborhood

    I wish Scott could stop being so painfully hip for even one second.

    1. At least Scoot isn’t tragically hip.


        This is America, Goddamnit

        1. I can read from Ontario can’t I. It’s only a short visit. I promise.

    2. It’s factual information, if you interpret that as somehow social signaling or being ‘too hip that he can’t see over his pelvis’ that says more about you than Mr. Shackford. ^_-

      1. “I just can’t help it that my mustache naturally curls into a birdcage and that I only love the most obscure industrial noise artists. It’s just facts of life my friend.”

  3. You’re only allowed the choices that Team Blue decrees you can have.

    1. Team Red is so much better about tolerating dissent.

      1. Am I allowed to say that Black Lives Matter is a good thing? Or does that still make me a race traitor?

        1. It’s probably a good thing to be a little bit of a race traitor.

          1. Agreed. The world needs more race treason.

  4. People keep inventing things! Make them stop!

  5. Bodegas? This is literally the first time in my life I have ever heard these stores referred to as “bodegas.”

    I feel like last week these were called “liquor stores” and were a scourge on the Poor.

    1. It feels like a Northeastern regionalism. Places that have Italians. Maybe not, but I didn’t hear it once I left the north east.

      1. I googled it and found that it is, indeed, a Northeast-ism. I grew up 100% in CA in have only once been north of DC, so to me “Bodega” is a bay, and nothing more.

        Are liquor stores typically owned by Italians in the NE?

        1. It’s a Spanish word and generally refers to small stores run by Hispanic people.

          1. Huh. In CA we call those “carnicerias” or just “mercados.”

            You learn something new every day.

            1. Mercado is correct. It means market. Bodega actually means winery.

              There. Those 2 years of Spanish in high school have finally paid off.

              1. I thought bodega meant basement.

                Tienda means shop; mercado implies something larger I think.

            2. I’m from Cal and I thought we called the 7-11s.

              1. Only when they’re owned by Sikhs. Or non-Sikh Punjabis (like that’s a thing).

            3. Carnicerias are meat markets specifically. Wish I could find a carniceria up here in Seattle… I still miss my home.

              1. It seems like the name “carniceria” adheres to small stores that are almost like liquor stores (the CA version, anyway), but where the “specialty” that they offer is what, for lack of a more readily available term in my mind, I’ll refer to as your “Mexican meats” – tongues, brains, tripe, etc. The store will be mostly a butcher counter with all that stuff, and then other convenience items with some Latin-specific products.

                A “Mercado,” in my off-the-cuff, only occasional and spotty experience with these stores, is like a “carniceria,” but larger, and more like a small super-market, but still very Latin-oriented. In other words, it seems like a “Mercado” is a pretty much a “carniceria” with produce.

                1. A carneceria is a traditional butcher shop.

                  A Mercado is a ‘market’–small supermarket/neighborhood store.

                  Bodegas are convenience stores with a Hispanic twist

                  There are carnecerias and mercados in the north and east as well as bodegas.

                  For non-Hispanic bodegas, see ‘7-11’ or ‘Wawa’. All others are gas stations.

          1. Au contraire, California is the only normal place on the planet. I have learned this through extensive travel. Well, not extensive, but outside California.

            1. Then again Scott obviously knew what bodegas were, so you are the odd one.


              1. To me that was a great big tell that Scott didn’t grow up here.


            2. Cali is weird as shit. You cannot be expected to develop a real personality if you never have to deal with adverse weather.

              1. Try dealing with our traffic then.

                1. I dealt with your traffic over 30 years ago; I moved away.

              2. You cannot be expected to develop a real personality if you never have to deal with adverse weather.

                I’ll have you know that just last weekend the temperature went above 100 degrees, and the other day it rained a little bit.

                *folds arms and looks tough*

                1. Wait – that was two weekends ago. Last weekend we topped 90, but it was really humid. I’m talking, like, 65%.

                  *refolds arms, reassumes tough look*

                  1. 65% humidity? You lucky bastard. It’s so humid in Texas during most of the summer, at least in the North-East where I live, that you don’t really need to drink bottled water. You just absorb it by osmosis.

                    1. This is why I vowed never to return to Texas. Normal humidity at 90 degrees should be 15% or less.

    2. It’s more or less Spanish for wine cellar or just cellar (and I just learned that it comes from the same root as “apothecary”). And I think you are right that calling small grocery stores generally “bodegas” is more of a NY/east coast thing.

      1. It’s more or less Spanish for wine cellar

        Ah – that explains the name of Bodega Bay. I’ve learned two new things today. I may be at my limit.

    3. Bodegas were frequently referred to on NYPD Blue. They never defined it, but I quickly picked up that they were talking about the corner store.

    4. Really? Have you never even watched Chappelle’s seminal work of ‘Half-Baked’? I’m sure you can find the relevant clip on YouTube. ^_-

      Just kidding, but yeah this seems like mostly an East Coast thing.

      1. Have you never even watched Chappelle’s seminal work of ‘Half-Baked’?

        I honestly can’t recall. I have never watched anything of Chappelle’s less than fully baked.

        1. Fair point, honestly…

    5. I started hearing them being called that by Millennials and GenY’ers about ten to fifteen years ago, especially in the Los Angeles area. They’ve actually been called that for a LONG time, the name just never hit middle class white liberal suburban vocabulary.

      1. the name just never hit middle class white liberal suburban vocabulary

        What are you trying to say?

        1. “Bodega” == poor ethnic neighborhood. Okay to wring your hands about the plight of the poor and minorities, but we really don’t want that kind of people living here.

    6. They sell lottery tickets and cigarettes, further victimizing the poor.

  6. And Cultural Appropriation?


    Liquor stores belong to a certain culture now? Is it Sikhs? It has to be Sikhs, doesn’t it?

    1. I hope not. They’re pretty badass and could probably kick a lot of peoples asses.

    2. They aren’t liquor stores – they are convenience stores. In New York convenience stores, mini-marts, many delis, etc, are commonly referred to as bodegas, which were at some point owned by many brown people.

      1. They’re basically off-brand 7-11s, right?

          1. Hey man, I dig stores where they have a cat mascot. I’ve met the best cats at those places!

      2. Maybe I’m just unclear on this concept. In CA, we have stores that carry liquor, and are called “liquor stores.” These stores also carry other things one might need on the fly, like toilet paper, basic cleaning products, potato chips, etc.

        We also have 7/11, which doesn’t have literal liquor, but sells beer and really, really cheap wine.

        I can’t remember ever having seen a store in CA that sold piddly little convenience shit that didn’t also sell alcohol in some form, and my assumption has always been “this store carries things you might also want to buy while you’re buying alcohol.”

        But then I suppose the east coast has strange liquor laws such that I suppose you would winding up still needing piddly-shit stores, but those stores wouldn’t be allowed to sell beer/wine/liquor.

        Is that what a “bodega” is? A dry convenience store?

        1. What X said, ethnic 7-11s. They sell beer, cigarettes, lotto tickets, and a bunch of little things.

          1. What X said, ethnic 7-11s.

            So . . . not owned by Sikhs?

            1. Hey, some of the 7-11s near me are owned by non-Sikh Punjabis.

            2. You keep your Sikh comments off this comment board.

              1. Hey – it’s a Sikh religion, and I’m gonna call it like it is.

                1. I guess carrying around a knife at all times is kinda Sikh.

                  1. If nothing else you kind of have to respect that, even if it’s probably not going to do you a whole lot of good in Texas ^_-

        2. It’s a NE thing. Liquor laws among the Yankee states are byzantine. So whether they sell alcohol in any form is going to be hit of miss.

          1. I shouldn’t have made this regional. Liquor laws are pretty fucked up in Dixie too.

          2. You can buy beer and wine in most stores in most of New England. Where you can buy spirits varies quite a bit. In Mass. and some other states, there used to be “package stores”, usually right next to a convenience store that couldn’t sell alcohol. But it’s loosened up a bit and now convenience stores sell alcohol. But there are still also liquor stores that people call “packies”.

            1. And in a funny coincidence bringing the whole topic full circle, most corner shops in England are owned and operated by Pakis.

              1. Great, now I am craving some Paki Snackies.

            2. I’m from Mass. originally and this is news to me. I was up there a few months ago, was in a convenience store, and did not see any alcohol…Would be great if they actually are getting rid of these retarded blue loss, but its my understanding that the package store lobby is very powerful and gets their people to scare politicians into thinking that having beer available in more places will lead to more kiddies getting wasted.

              1. I was working a contract in Boston a few years ago. As quitting time neared I said something about happy hour to one of the locals. No, he said, the city had banned happy hours. What? This is an outrage, says I. Well, says he, we abused it.

                1. Happy hour in MA is when you buy a 40 at the packie and drink it in the back of your car before going to the bar.

                  1. Wow, and amusingly enough this is pretty much how it works in Texas too even though we have happy hours (even in supposedly ‘dry’ counties that I’ve lived in).

                    The last time I did that down on lower Greenville avenue was when I was probably 24 years old, which was a pretty long time ago now, and instead of a 40 we went fancy and bought a handle of the kind of Vodka you might use to disinfect something. I do not recommend.

              2. They still have the stupid limitation on how many licenses one person can own, which probably keeps some stores from selling alcohol.

      1. Yup. And toilet plungers.

          1. Proudly.

              1. If you need a plunger, you are also gonna need new socks.

              2. You never when you’re going to need a pint of liquor, a pack of cigarettes, a porn magazine, a toilet plunger, and some socks. These things happen.

                1. Well, all those products do certainly suggest a certain kind of…*ahem*…lifestyle?

          2. I know. Why don’t they install macerators like normal people.

      2. my closest “liquor store” is a CVS, ah, gotta love wisconsin, selling booze in a pharmacy

        1. For years, pharmacies were the only places (aside from dedicated liquor stores) allowed to sell “distilled spirits” in Indiana. Grocery stores could sell wine and beer, but not the hard stuff. They finally changed the law to allow groceries to carry liquor (It still strikes me as a little weird to see booze on the clearance aisle at Wal-Mart.), but you still have to go to a liquor store to buy cold beer. They’re talking about changing that, but it remains to be seen where that’s going to go. Oh, and don’t even think about buying anything alcoholic on Sunday.

  7. I’m the minority in my own primarily Latino and African-American neighborhood.

    Oh, put it back in the deck, Shackelford.

  8. They’re taking the jobs that immigrants do that americans won’t do!

  9. And that allowed other media sites?like Teen Vogue here?to piggyback with lazy “here are some angry tweets” journalism.

    I, for one, am extremely disappointed to see a once respected and reputable news source, known for delivering hard hitting and insightful commentary like Teen Vogue reduced to this. /sarc

    1. If it wasn’t for Teen Vogue the burden of teaching our teens proper the proper technique for anal sex would fall not to parents, or teachers, or coaches, but to the strange men who induce them into experimenting with some butt play, and damnit, that just isn’t right.

      Thank you, Teen Vogue.

  10. And that allowed other media sites?like Teen Vogue here?to piggyback with lazy “here are some angry tweets” journalism.

    Look, man, this is no way to talk about Reason! Even if it is true!

  11. Damn, I thought it was going to be story about a cocaine vending machine. I’m outraged that it is not.

  12. Bodegas in progopolises are already getting squeezed by rent, licensing fees, and obscenely high taxes on tobacco. The same people getting outraged about this probably would never set foot in a bodega themselves and will happily use the yoga studio or doggie bakery that replaces it. More white guilt in other words…

  13. People compared this glorified vending machine to Walmart, and accused it of trying to put “mom and pop” stores out of business. You know who benefited from Walmart putting “mom and pop” stores out of business? Poor people. “Mom and pop” stores charged higher prices and always ran out of the stuff you need, because their inventory system consisted of mom ordering stuff every few weeks.

    Others complained about faceless corporations showing low profits and dodging taxes. But “mom and pop” stores run on a cash basis, so they aren’t exactly known for their tax compliance. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

    1. But “mom and pop” stores run on a cash basis, so they aren’t exactly known for their tax compliance.

      If the mom and pop stores go out of business where will people launder their illegal prostitution and gambling earnings, Huh?

      1. That is an important question.

      2. If the mom and pop stores go out of business where will people launder their illegal prostitution and gambling earnings, Huh?

        Car washes, laundromats and dry cleaners, nail salons, resale shops, food tru… er I mean, gosh, I have no idea.

  14. “Two ex-Googlers want to make bodegas and mom-and-pop corner stores obsolete”

    Maybe mom and pop should retire. They were good at gossip, but not so hot at running the store.

  15. Gentrification = trying to make rundown neighborhoods more livable. I guess proglodytes have a major problem with that. Neighborhoods should be eclectic and colorful, not nice places to live.

    1. They want to be the first to live there but don’t want anymore white progs to move in.

      1. You just described the entire population of Austin, TX.

  16. Sign seen on a trendy coffee shop in an ethnic Italian neighborhood in America: “Gentrification is colonialism”
    I’ll leave you to contemplate the layers of irony.

    1. That’s a 10 on the Morissette Scale.

  17. If it weren’t for Perpetual outrage, Twitter would be losing money.

  18. Eh, the reality is that automation is going to put a lot of people out of work and something is going to have to be done to address the issue.

    And no, it’s not like horse buggies, because the auto industry created a ton of jobs for the unskilled. Automation won’t. And no, you can’t give everyone free college to turn them into a coder.

    1. The auto industry wasn’t ubiquitous immediately though. It was a good for the very rich and it wasn’t unskilled labor making the cars, either.

      Eventually, Ford created a process that allowed for the unskilled to make cars. I see no reason why Manufacturing of the automation devices can’t similarly rely on unskilled or low-skilled labor. College may not matter. Maybe just hyper-specific 3-5 class modules will do.

      And if not, then that means the economy goes from a knowledge economy to a service economy like it did from agricultural to manufacturing to knowledge.

      1. This. You only need the coders until they write code that an idiot can operate.

        1. I want to replace the “plastics” scene from “The Graduate” with UI.

  19. I asked McDonald point-blank about whether he’s worried that the name Bodega might come off as culturally insensitive. Not really. “I’m not particularly concerned about it,” he says. “We did surveys in the Latin American community to understand if they felt the name was a misappropriation of that term or had negative connotations, and 97% said ‘no’. It’s a simple name and I think it works.”

    But some members of the Hispanic community don’t feel the same way.

    Uhh yeah, 3%, to be precise.

    Also, I like how the reporter “point-blank” asks McDonald and not the other co-founder, Rajan, about cultural appropriation. Drive that narrative, baby!

  20. When outrage is all the rage…

  21. Can’t wait for Bodega to bring their vending machines to Brazil, going out to the street is too dangerous and too risky when you just need some small item.

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