The New York City corner bodega, a pillar of communities with its neon lights, late night service, and infamous cats, might become vestiges of a bygone era with the influx of 15-minute grocery delivery startups.
“Bodegas are the very heart of New York City’s culture and economy,” Comptroller Brad Lander said, emphasizing the small convenience stores’ importance to residents at a rally in Lower Manhattan.
A coalition of elected officials, Lower East Side residents, and small businesses gathered outside a local bodega to condemn a new entity threatening the livelihood of beloved community enterprises–Venture Capital (VC)-backed quick-commerce startups delivering groceries in 15-minutes which flourished during the pandemic while many locations were forced to close.
Raising their voices and fists to the rainy air outside of Stop 1 Deli at 122 Suffolk Street, elected officials like Lander and Councilwoman Carlina Rivera spoke in unison alongside their constituents to decry big tech companies’ plan to offer grocery delivery services on the backs of small mom and pop shops.
Comparing the process to the way in which Uber drivers drew fares away from the yellow cab industry, the group says big businesses will do the same to cherished community staples. This coalition pledged to not allow the neighborhood culture to be uprooted and ultimately extinguished.
“Do you realize these are illegal warehouses in a zoning for retail, restaurant, and food establishments. They are not in the right zoning category. That’s right, illegal, illegal. They are not legal and they are going to kill,” said Councilwoman Gale Brewer, advising consumers to look into these tech delivery services and examine their financials, which she adds showcases billions of dollars from venture capitalists.
Agreeing, Rivera says the fight is deeply personal for her, as she was brought up in and around local markets and bodegas.
“That’s the community that raised me. We have a long rich history of small businesses, and we cannot deny that bodegas are a part of the history of New York City and an important piece of our culture,” she said. “We can investigate what is legal and what is illegal and make sure that we are holding people accountable.”
Those at the rally called for big tech and grocery delivery startups to develop models that collaborate with the small, local businesses in communities, allowing for technology and bodegas to prosper in the neighborhood together.