In some NY communities hard hit by COVID-19, bodegas are lifelines

Jasmine Garsd Apr 24, 2020
One of hundreds of bodegas in New York City closed by COVID-19. Photo courtesy Francisco Marte

In some NY communities hard hit by COVID-19, bodegas are lifelines

Jasmine Garsd Apr 24, 2020
One of hundreds of bodegas in New York City closed by COVID-19. Photo courtesy Francisco Marte

Six weeks ago, Miguel Baez, who owns the Bodega Gourmet Deli in the Bronx, noticed something alarming. The cashier and the deli attendant were coughing incessantly and telling him their bodies ached.

Then he found out one of the guys who worked at a nearby market died of COVID-19.

And so Baez closed his bodega, which he said is one of the main food suppliers in his neighborhood. 

In New York City, these small shops sell everything from chopped cheese sandwiches to cartons of milk and rolls of toilet paper. Some neighborhoods depend on them as main suppliers of essential goods, especially in low-income communities, said Karan Girotra of Cornell University. 

“Big chains and others don’t find [these neighborhoods] profitable enough to sell. And the small kind of store has filled in that gap,” he said.

Francisco Marte’s bodegas are open, but he says it’s been challenging.

In New York, the Bronx is among the hardest hit areas by COVID-19. Francisco Marte owns three bodegas in the Bronx, and he heads up the Bodega and Small Business Association in New York.

“People come to hang out at the store when they leave work, when they have some troubles to discuss,” he said.

But that closeness has become a liability. Hundreds of bodegas in Marte’s association have had to close. 

Earlier this week, lawmakers set aside an additional $310 billion in aid to small businesses.

Baez, the owner of Gourmet Deli, has not applied for any loans. He’s heard from other owners that the process is a bureaucratic nightmare. But he’s thinking about asking for help now.

“It’s been chaos,” he said. “Electrical bills and rent are still due. Food has gone bad.”

Meanwhile, Marte’s bodegas are still open for business. It’s not easy.

But he thinks back to the ’80s, when he was a teenager, and he moved from the Dominican Republic to the Bronx. 

“In the ’80s, ’90s we [bodega owners] risked our lives being in dangerous areas,” he said.

He got his first bodega at a discount because it was such a rough neighborhood. 

He was robbed, got into fistfights, and he was shot. But he’s still a bodeguero, and says he’s here to stay. 

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

How are Americans feeling about their finances?

Nearly half of all Americans would have trouble paying for an unexpected $250 bill and a third of Americans have less income than before the pandemic, according to the latest results of our Marketplace-Edison Poll. Also, 6 in 10 Americans think that race has at least some impact on an individual’s long-term financial situation, but Black respondents are much more likely to think that race has a big impact on a person’s long-term financial situation than white or Hispanic/Latinx respondents.

Find the rest of the poll results here, which cover how Americans have been faring financially about six months into the pandemic, race and equity within the workplace and some of the key issues Trump and Biden supporters are concerned about.

Are people still waiting for unemployment payments?

Yes. There is no way to know exactly how many people have been waiting for months and are still not getting unemployment, because states do not have a good system in place for tracking that kind of data, according to Andrew Stettner of The Century Foundation. But by his own calculations, only about 60% of people who have applied for benefits are currently receiving them. That means there are millions still waiting. Read more here on what they are doing about it.

What’s going to happen to retailers, especially with the holiday shopping season approaching?

A report out Tuesday from the accounting consultancy BDO USA said 29 big retailers filed for bankruptcy protection through August. And if bankruptcies continue at that pace, the number could rival the bankruptcies of 2010, after the Great Recession. For retailers, the last three months of this year will be even more critical than usual for their survival as they look for some hope around the holidays.

Read More


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