Viewing Room Main Site
Skip to content
What Was the Bodega?

In the 1980s, when I lived alone in a 275-square-foot rent-free, unheated studio apartment owned by a former Warhol superstar who was an heir to a real-estate fortune, I shopped exclusively at my two local bodegas on Avenue B. Drug dealers lived downstairs. Their dogs patrolled the hallways. I was robbed more times than I can remember, including once when my front door was unscrewed from its hinges.

The bodegas were oases of comparative calm. Alphabet City — where a charming farmers’ market springs to life at Tompkins Square Park every Sunday — was once what we could call an underserved neighborhood, a food desert. The bodegas, often run then as now by people of color, were one-stop mini-malls not only for canned beans and soda but also diapers, detergent, loose cigarettes, and beer. (I bought single Marlboros for years as I tried and failed to quit smoking.) Some sold drugs. Others had a cat curled up in the window, taking a nap between mice hunts. You might pay through thick plexiglass while a couple regulars sat on plastic crates and looked at you askance. Or laughed and talked in Spanish. These were not necessarily places you lingered in. But we wouldn’t have survived without them....

Back To Top