They want to turn your bodega into a vending machine


Sometimes it’s too easy with these guys.

Two Google veterans announced a bright new venture on Wednesday: They want to sell the stuff you’d get at a bodega, but instead of a bodega it’s a vending machine. Instead of a well-stocked storefront, it’s a five-foot-wide pantry box. Instead of vendors there are all-seeing cameras. It’s called — and this was what really threw fuel on the fire and prompted a blog-post apology from one of the founders — “Bodega.”

Hey, everyone’s hustling for the next thing, and who wants to rain on innovation? Maybe these guys are just looking to squeeze in on a bad business, push it a little, find a smart opening.

That would be way too quotidian. “The vision here is much bigger than the box itself,” Paul McDonald, one of the founders, tells Fast Company. “Eventually, centralized shopping locations won’t be necessary, because there will be 100,000 Bodegas spread out, with one always 100 feet away from you.”

Order up utopia. That’s “Bodegas,” not bodegas, just the most recent poorly conceived startup business that adds little value as we feel our way towards a technology-fueled New Economy.

We’ll go the the barricades to protect the bodegas

The founders haven’t announced plans to expand from the Bay Area to NYC yet, though they tell Fast Company they want to be “national” with more than a thousand locations by the end of 2018.

Photos on the company’s website show hip young characters gazing lovingly at the Bodega™ case, which looks more like a retro-dystopian television set than the dusty but well-stocked corner store shelves more than common around NYC.

If they do ever get to New York, will the automated boxes really replace bodegas, which are plentiful here if not elsewhere and offer more than just convenient shopping?

Will they have awnings wide enough to duck under out of the rain? Will they sell beer and bad wine? Can they fry an egg or toast bread?

Would the impersonal locker hang onto your extra set of keys, lend you a dollar on credit or stay open 24-hours so the street isn’t quite so dark — all functions human-run bodegas currently serve?

Sentimental notions like these tend not to stop big businesses like Amazon and its brethren, but they’re worth considering when niche but over-funded startups breathlessly start sharing glossy concept videos and making a big thing out of simple ideas.

Silicon valley meet silicon alley

It’s not that New York is anti-startup.

As the internet teased Bodega, innovation got an actual boost at the ribbon cutting for the much-anticipated Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island.

The idea for a technology center came out of the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, when former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other city leaders were jolted into brainstorming ways to modernize the city’s economy.

Bloomberg landed on a synergy-producing university: a locus of innovation, producer of new tech jobs, and anticipated organ of the local economy. On the occasion of the 2013 transfer of the land to Cornell and its partner, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Bloomberg said in a statement: “It’s going to help add thousands of new jobs to our economy in the decades ahead.”

The excitement was still there at the ribbon cutting Wednesday, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio falling over themselves to praise Bloomberg’s vision. The city and state continue to support NYC as a leader in the international tech race, a big bet on future jobs and tax revenue. Certainly, the hope is for something more consequential than Bodega.

Maybe a thorough five borough ridicule of the glorified vending machines will encourage entrepreneurs to try a little harder next time: the Next Big Thing can certainly be bigger than this. In the meantime, we’ll savor the two-minute walk to buy Gatorade and shampoo.

 

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