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This Startup Wants To Put Giant Minibars In Apartment Lobbies

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You might call them bodegas, corner stores or convenience stores, but you’re probably familiar with that one locally owned store that has exactly what you need at the odd hour when you needed it. They’re more common in cities than elsewhere, but there’s a startup out to replace them entirely — with giant minibars.

Maybe the minibar comparison isn’t quite fair, but that’s how these vending machines, called Bodegas, work. Customers can unlock the box with an app, and then cameras inside the box record what items they take. Those items are charged to the account that opened the box. Simple!

The company launched this week with 50 boxes in and near San Francisco, and aspires to have thousands more.

“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,” one of the cofounders told Fast Company.

The idea seems perfect for the privileged, super-connected environment of a college dorm, unless you’ve ever spent time around drunk 19-year-olds, who could easily demolish the glass-fronted machine. The company also suggests placing the machines in offices, apartment buildings, and gyms.

What do all of those buildings have in common? They limit access to members, residents, and employees. Vending machines with essential items are something that we need more of, like the planned CVS kiosks, but centralized shopping locations will always be essential for some people. Not everyone even has a smartphone, let alone lives in a building with its own mini robo-store.

While the cofounders say they did research indicating that most Hispanic Americans don’t object to having a tech business use the term, one influential grandson of a bodega owner does object.

Frank Garcia, chair New York State Coalition of Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, told Fast Company that he would consider lobbying to limit the company’s access to commercial properties in New York state.

“To me, it is offensive for people who are not Hispanic to use the name ‘bodega,’ to make a quick buck. It’s disrespecting all the mom-and-pop bodega owners that started these businesses in the ’60s and ’70s.”

Then there are the cats. Bodega (the company) uses a cat as its logo in tribute to the many (actual) bodega cats who welcome neighborhood residents and handle pest control is a bit problematic.

While we generally wouldn’t object to a company using a cat as a mascot, in this case it’s controversial, since the business wants to replace the stores where those cats work and live.

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