We may be living in the final days of the bodega as most New Yorkers are familiar with them. Whether one goes by a strict definition of an ethnic Hispanic market or a broader vision of a small independently owned convenience store, bodegas appear to be on the verge of being squeezed to the periphery of urban life—victims of New York's changing economics and demographics. It has been a brutal past few years for these small businesses. The most recent recession caused hundreds of stores to close—137 on a 33-block length of Broadway in upper Manhattan alone during 2009—and the city's economic recovery is squeezing them from another direction: rent. An article in the Times last year pointed to an economic study that showed bodegas' rents per square foot had climbed between 50% and 130% between 2005 and 2010.
While rents are soaring, bodegas are facing business competition from large chains like CVS, Duane Reade, and Rite-Aid, that can afford to pay millions of dollars to open stores that dwarf corner markets in size, selection, and economies of scale. The populations that bodegas serve are also disappearing. Stores that specialized in lower-priced and ethnic foods catered to demographic segments of New Yorkers that are being pushed aside as more neighborhoods are gentrified. Some bodegas are adapting to this by refashioning themselves as health markets with more upscale and organic offerings that appeal to newer neighborhood residents.
Such is the way of business life in an ever-changing city: adapt or die. But in this necessary adaptation or elimination, New York will likely lose a type of store that seemed as permanent to the streetscape as it did familiar. Some will claim that bodegas will never die out in New York, that their ubiquity is an urban necessity, and that some things in New York can withstand the tides of changing times. We direct those peoples' attention to the image below, where a pushcart crowds a New York City sidewalk, when almost a quarter of New York's produce was purchased from sidewalk and street vendors. It's an indelible image of New York, except that in real life pushcarts have faded from the city's streets. There is no guarantee that the same fate is not in store for the bodegas of today.