‘Save bodegas with technology:’ NYC bodega associations seek to boost local delivery app

bodega exterior
Green Ivy Organic is one of hundreds of delis and bodegas in New York City. Many are concerned about the quick increase in popularity of quick-commerce delivery apps.

A week after asking local government for help as quick-commerce delivery apps continue to grow, New York City’s bodegas have decided to take things into their own hands.

Three organizations representing hundreds of bodegas citywide are backing a fundraising campaign for My Bodega Online, a delivery app developed by and for bodega owners.

“The funds will help cover the cost of hardware, equipment and jumpstart local marketing,” said Jose Bello, CEO of My Bodega Online, in a release. “We are a grassroot, bootstrapping startup looking to ‘save bodegas with technology.’”

Bello, backed by the Yemeni American Merchants Association, United Bodegas of America, and the Bodega and Small Business Association, is seeking to raise $37,500 to get bodegas in the South Bronx trained and ready to start using the software — equipping themselves to compete with the tech startups they fear will threaten the future of bodegas.

a jokr dark store, which bodega owners want regulated
JOKR’s micro-warehouse – or “dark store” – in the Financial District.Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

“This is the first time that the three of them, the three organizations, are all working together on something,” Bello said. “For me, what is happening with bodegas is this: they feel afraid of crime and whatnot, and they want a solution for that. And then you have quick-commerce.”

Quick-commerce apps, like JOKR and Gorillas, launched in the city earlier this year, and have quickly gained popularity and ground. The venture-capitalist backed companies deliver groceries, toiletries, and home goods in as little as ten minutes for customers within their delivery range, using small warehouses called “dark stores” and couriers on electric bicycles and scooters.

While the service may seem like a threat to grocery stores at first glance, some bodega owners fear that low prices and speedy delivery encroach on their niche — a quick stop for a handful of essential items.

Much of the money raised will go toward “micro-marketing,” Bello said, putting out the message to customers that ordering from a bodega is even a possibility, and the rest will go to training and preparation for store owners and their delivery workers. They estimated that each store would need about $1,500, and have chosen 25 bodegas in the Bronx to start with.

“The problem is that the customers, I feel, they are not seeing these corner, mom-and-pop stores as a way to get my groceries online,” Bello said. “The [bodegas] that are already doing delivery over the phone, even they are having problems understanding, ‘Hey, there is another way.’”

Launching the fundraiser was an actionable step Bello and the organizations could take toward protecting those mom-and-pop stores, he said, as New Yorkers and local elected officials start to take notice of the concern about delivery apps.

As for training, Bello said, some bodegas already have an informal delivery service. Regulars call in an order on the phone, it gets written down on a piece of paper, and the owner sends someone out on an electric bicycle to drop it off nearby.

“Now they need to download the app, it’s an app for them, they need to approve the order, take the order, make the delivery, click again, it’s a process,” he said. “And then we realized, in the last three months, you need a special personality or skills to do that.”

My Bodega Online
My Bodega Online currently serves seven South Bronx bodegas. Screenshot/Kirstyn Brendlen

The stores Bello has chosen for the first round of fundraising have designated delivery workers already, he said, but both owners and couriers will get some training as they get acclimated to a more formal, customer-service oriented delivery process.

“To secure our service we must become part of the online commerce revolution,” said UBA president Radhames Rodriguez, in a release. “We ask New Yorkers to join this movement ‘Save Bodegas with Technology’. We won’t disappear like the neighborhood taxi driver bases disappeared a few years ago when Uber disrupted the taxi industry.  Now we have our own app and our own technology and will fight back and win.”

This push to raise money and get the 25 bodegas in the Bronx online is a test, Bello said, and an opportunity to see how the public will respond.

“If this is successful, and moves forward, we will get other funding from other sources,” he said. “This is giving the opportunity to the public to say, ‘Hey, do you like this idea, do you support bodegas, do you think the city should keep bodegas as, somebody said, the fabric of New York City.’”

Find the My Bodega Online Indiegogo page here.