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September 13, 2017
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A new startup could give beloved neighborhood bodegas a run for their money.

Former Google employees Paul McDonald and Ashwath Rajan have developed a concept called Bodega, which stocks corner store goods without the corner store charm. The items are displayed in glass pantry boxes, akin to vending machines, which are set up in apartments, gyms, college dorms, and offices. Each case carries different products, depending on what the company has assessed to be the most popular items in that particular community. "Each community tends to have relatively homogenous tastes, given that they live or work in the same place,” McDonald told Fast Company. "By studying their buying behavior, we're hoping to eventually figure out how the needs of people in one apartment building differ from those in another."

On Wednesday, the startup installed 50 new Bodegas on the West Coast. By the end of next year, McDonald "hopes to have more than a thousand," Fast Company reported. If this startup is successful, it could very well push the mom-and-pop corner shops — institutions embedded in city life — out of business.

Already, a bodega vs. Bodega battle is bubbling up. Aside from potentially putting the brick-and-mortar stores out of business, the startup has also christened itself with the same Spanish term used to describe the small stores, which are usually run by people of Latin American or Asian origin. The startup even borrowed the trope of the bodega cat for its logo. "It's disrespecting all the mom-and-pop bodega owners that started these businesses in the '60s and '70s," said Frank Garcia, the chairman of the New York State Coalition of Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Garcia argued that Bodegas aren't really bodegas because "real bodegas are all about human relationships within a community, having someone you know greet you and make the sandwich you like."

McDonald brushed off concerns that the company's name might be "culturally insensitive," Fast Company reported. "I'm not particularly concerned about it," he said.

Read the full story at Fast Company. Becca Stanek