Why we love bodegas in NYC
Bodegas are one of the cornerstones of daily life in New York City and every local has their favorite. Sure, major cities are littered with convenience stores, but there’s something quintessentially New York about bodega culture and everything these humble shops represent. They may not be the flashiest of places, but there’s a host of reasons why New Yorkers love bodegas – and the Big Apple wouldn’t be the same without them.
Where else in the city can you go for an ATM, bottle of Tylenol, lottery ticket, and a chopped cheese all under one roof? Not all bodegas are equipped with a deli counter, but most will be stocked with those random odds and ends you may need throughout the day. Chances are, no matter where you live in NYC, there’s a bodega within less than a five-minute walk from your apartment. And many are open 24 hours.
The Cultural Significance
To outsiders, the whole concept of “bodega culture” may sound a bit strange. But this facet of New York City life dates back to the 1940s and ’50s when it was a daily routine to run down to the corner store for sundries. More importantly, bodegas provided a way for immigrants to start their own businesses. Historically, these mom and pop shops are what gave rise to the first generation of entrepreneurs from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. As more Puerto Ricans migrated to NYC, the growing demand led to more bodegas opening, allowing them to support their families and build strong communities. In essence, bodegas helped fuel the development of New York City’s renowned Hispanic community.
The Inside Jokes
There are many cultural stereotypes and jokes about bodegas in NYC that only locals and well-seasoned visitors will understand. The grumpy old Puerto Rican owner who acts like you’re bothering him when you ask for a price check. The Arab owner who is always on the phone when he’s ringing you up. The Jamaican store, where nobody ever seems to be manning the counter. The random bodega cat sleeping on the bread. If you’ve ever experienced any of these situations, you’ll understand why New Yorkers love bodegas. They’re a source of comedy gold.
On a personal note, when I lived on the corner of East 86th and Second Avenue, I spent three years frequenting the Arab-owned bodega across the street. Over time, I developed a friendly banter with the guys working there, and they’d always greet me with a “Hello, princess!” Much like other patrons, I’d pop in at all hours (like at 4 a.m. when I needed snacks to soak up the booze after a long night out). I even helped one of the owners pick out a Christmas gift for his granddaughter. Since I worked from my apartment, the bodega guys would often be the only human interaction I’d have during the day, and I always appreciated those little moments of kindness and chit chat. The bodega made NYC feel more like home, and it was wonderful to have that sense of familiarity within an ever-changing city.
Pak Punjab photo by Ruwan J. via Yelp.
And adorable photos of bodega cats on Instagram.