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Figueroa-Levin: Champagne cola is losing the bodega battle

The bodega is a canary in the coal

The bodega is a canary in the coal mine of “up-and-coming” neighborhoods. Credit: iStock

The bodega on the corner is gentrifying. Like the neighborhood itself, it’s being slowly overtaken by yuppies wearing yoga pants and pushing double strollers. The rack that used to have deep-fried pork rinds now has naturally dehydrated gluten-free organic fair trade fruit leather. The refrigerator has wheat grass juice. Beer has been replaced with pear cider.

The bodega is a canary in the coal mine of “up-and-coming” neighborhoods. The amount of vegan organic products directly corresponds to the amount of vegan organic gentrifiers moving in. Bodegas also capture the friction and awkwardness of gentrification.
Old timers and new comers navigate the tiny space without making contact. Yuppies roll their eyes at people buying bottles of sugar-filled champagne cola. People buying champagne cola roll their eyes at yuppies buying soy-free soy milk that tastes like wet cardboard and the ground-up bones of political prisoners.

Many bodegas are going out of business, and the ones that remain are changing. They aren’t even called bodegas anymore, just stores. The bodega on my corner in Inwood is becoming just a store — a store with carrot juice, locally sourced spring water and stroller parking. I can lament the disappearance of the bodega and complain about all the new people moving in and changing everything, but it won’t do any good. Gentrification feels inevitable. All the old flavor, the reason I moved here in the first place, is being replaced with “real” ginger ale that has jasmine and chunks of ginger at the bottom of the fastidiously designed bottle.

One thing that remains the same at my bodega, however, is the perpetually expired (cow) milk. Do they order this stuff already expired or something?

Bodegas need to change with the population to stay in business, but I hope (for the sake of my family’s Malta India addiction) that they retain some of their bodega-ness. If you want your local bodega to stay a bodega, don’t roll your eyes at the man with the skinny jeans and ironic beard, recommend that he try some dulce de leche. If he asks if it’s vegan, offer him a mango instead. If people buy the products that make a bodega a bodega, those products will continue to be stocked.

And check the date on that milk before you buy it.

Rachel Figueroa-Levin tweets as @Jewyorican, @EveryGentrifier and @ElBloombito. 

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