NEW YORK BODEGA

A SERIES BY MAX BUTTERWORTH

NEW YORK BODEGA is a series of photographs which documents the disappearing grocery stores of New York City.

Owned and run by local residents since the late 1960s, they are a hallmark of the neighbourhood communities of Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan. True to their cultural identity, the Spanish word "Bodega" translates roughly to cellar or warehouse in English, and is used as a colloquialism for "Grocery Store". 

Their bold letters splash across colourful awnings which hang over packed window displays on quiet street corners of the outer boroughs. From lottery tickets to exotic fruits, from cigarettes to beers, they are one stop shop for anything and everything.

MAIN IMAGE: LEXINGTON DELI GROCERY, 1878 LEXINGTON AVENUE, NEW YORK (SIGN REMOVED SINCE)

ABOVE IMAGE: FRANKLIN DELI GROCERY, 97 FRANKLIN AVE, BROOKLYN, NY. 

The iconic shop front design is believed to have emerged in the early 1970s, as grocery stores upgraded their canvas awnings to shield their produce from the sun. Soon after, the look became ubiquitous as these small Superettes popped up throughout the five boroughs, owned by families of Cuban, Puerto Rican and Dominican heritage.

In 2017 they are a rare sight. If gentrification and soaring rent prices in Brooklyn & Queens have not forced owners out, the signs have been taken down and replaced to move with the times. 

IMAGE: TROY SUPERETTE, 332 TROY AVENUE, BROOKLYN, NY. 

Once at the cutting edge of modern design, some now see these awnings as a drooping, broken symbol of what once was. Many still boast the same yellow and red colour code as the originals, but very few have held on to the angular, box-shaped awnings which hang well into the sidewalk offering “carnes frescas” (fresh meats) cervesas and “productos tropicales” to locals. 

But through decades of changing tastes and gentrification, a handful of the original Bodegas have survived.

In Williamsburg, Brooklyn – “New York Deli Grocery” which is perhaps the most prominent of all Bodega shop fronts, still stands impossibly at the epicenter of trendy neighbourhood development and astronomical rent prices. Its sign has been re-written and the paneling has weathered a few spots of graffiti, but on a dark street it’s brightly lit windows are filled with colour coordinated bags of Kettle Chips and Pringles. Fighting against a tidal wave of shiny apartment complexes, juxtaposed in a neighbourhood filled with old vs new.

IMAGE: NEW YORK DELI GROCERY, 82-84 HAVEMEYER STREET, BROOKLYN, NEW YORK.

Further through Brooklyn in areas such as Bedford Stuvesant, you are more likely to find a slice of gritty New York heritage. But as is so often the case, original Bodegas such as Tony’s Grocery on Jefferson Avenue are shuttered despite their signs which read “Open 24 Hours”. All too often store owners have replaced the original signs to display characterless digital images of sandwiches and beer cans. 

In 2017 the disappearance of such characterful icons as these, strikes a sobering note that community identity is being lost to gentrification. As neighbourhoods get richer, they become poorer culturally, and much of what makes New York City unique is being lost in the process. 

IMAGE: TONY'S GROCERY (CLOSED) 488 JEFFERSON AVENUE, BROOKLYN, NEW YORK. 

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