No one had to tell Bronx residents that bodegas are an “essential business” – a place where at any time, you can grab a BLT or a carton of eggs, all while catching up on neighborhood news.
But the coronavirus is straining Bronx bodegas, as customers stay home to comply with social distancing orders and as bodega owners and workers fear getting sick. Many bodegas are now struggling to stay open and pay their rent.
Enter the MyBodega Online App, which provides a way for customers to order online groceries and other necessities from their local bodega. Customers can either order groceries for pickup or delivery to their door.
Jose Bello, CEO and founder of MyBodega Online, said he introduced the app months ahead of its planned rollout date to offer bodegas a way to remain open during the coronavirus crisis.
The app, he said, provides bodegas “an opportunity to do deliveries to their customers and to keep the distance that is needed right now, but at the same time, you know, hopefully provide groceries for the people.”
So far, over 35 bodegas across New York have signed up for the service since the app was released on March 23, with a majority of them in the Bronx. The app, though catered towards bodegas, has also seen a few local supermarkets and restaurants register.
Bello has a goal of registering 1,000 stores by the end of June; so far, about 3,000 customers have registered with the app, he said.
The beginning weeks of using MyBodega Online have been a learning experience for many bodega owners. Some are in the process of listing prices for their goods on the app, while others are trying to promote the new service in their community.
Andres Vargas, manager of My Fish Fruit Market on Morris Avenue, said he is still doing virtual tutorials on how to use the app’s features and expects some kinks to start. But he is hopeful that the app will help keep his business alive during the pandemic.
Yassir “Dave” Guhshi, manager of Mo’s Gourmet on East 146 Street in the Bronx, said that his first hurdle is getting the word out to his customers about the new app.
“My idea is that I already printed posters so as soon as I’m done, I’m going to put the posters in my store and maybe give it out in the neighborhood,” said Guhshi. “Just print a whole bunch and let people download the app so they can get to know it.”
Some owners like, Francisco Marte the owner of Green Deli Grocery on Webster Avenue, who is also the founder of the Bodega and Small Business Association of New York, said that the app has helped keep his workers and customers safe by providing a practical way to practice social distancing.
However, he said that bodegas are still facing health risks.
“Still our risk is very high because we got to walk around the aisles and we have to get the products sometimes when people ask and we have to guide them,” said Marte. “So, we are trying to keep our employees and ourselves a little safe but still we are risking a lot.”
Marte said the Bodega and Small Business Association of New York, in collaboration with MyBodega Online, is preparing to release a statement next week highlighting the health and rent issues bodegas are facing during the pandemic.
The statement, Marte said, will include health guidelines for bodegas. Those include putting barricades in front of the counter to make sure that there is a 4-6 foot space between customers and employees, and putting plastic in front of the counters if a barricade isn’t enough.
For now, Marte hopes the app will help decrease the number of customers physically going into the bodega and that eventually more bodegas and customers will register with MyBodega Online.
MyBodega Online began testing the current version of the app last November in bodegas across Philadelphia, Allentown, Jersey City and the Bronx.
Unlike similar delivery apps, like Uber Eats and DoorDash, MyBodega Online does not employ drivers to pick up the food from the bodegas. Instead, it is up to each bodega to designate a worker to do the deliveries. The delivery area typically will be only a couple of blocks away from the bodega.
The app is free for bodegas to download and use during the pandemic. Once the crisis has passed, Bello said, bodega owners will pay 50 cents for each transaction made through the app.