With 7-Eleven Set to Expand, Bodega Owners Prepare for Slurpee Invasion

There are currently 450 7-Elevens in New York, but the company has its sights set on opening more than 40 this year and 350 more in the next seven years. (Photo by Juan Matossian/EDLP)

In America’s suburbs and many of its cities, 7-Elevens are often the only available convenience store option, offering the same Slurpees, hot dogs and snack foods nationwide. Not so in New York City, where the colorful array of Latino bodegas, Korean groceries and corner stores of every culture display goods that defy this standardization — and many New Yorkers wouldn’t have it any other way. But with 7-Eleven planning to nearly double its presence in the city over the next decade, these small businesses are at risk, along with their owners, reporter Juan Matossian writes in El Diario/La Prensa. The article is translated from Spanish below.

Something that makes New York different from other big cities in the USA is the number of bodegas that can be found on almost every street corner. It’s a reality that is unlikely to disappear in the near future, but it will definitely change.

According to the Bodega Association of the United States, more than 16,000 small neighborhood businesses are spread throughout the city, where customers can buy everything from groceries to alcoholic beverages to necessities such as toilet paper. Many of these establishments are passed down from generation to generation, and according to the Bodega Association, Latinos operate more than 80 percent of them.

Bodegas have had a rough time under the weight of the economic downturn and the rising cost of rent in the city. Now, a new threat seems to loom over bodegas: 7-Eleven, the largest franchise of local supermarkets in the world, has announced a huge expansion in New York, practically doubling the number of establishments already in existence.

Currently, the chain has a little less than 450 stores, but the company plans to open more than 40 over the course of this year, and about 350 more over a period of five to seven years. [Editor’s note: The Daily News reports that the chain has 18 convenience stores in Manhattan, and plans to open at least 14 more this year and 20 more each year from 2013 to 2017.]

A Deal With the Giant

“Although we compete with 7-Eleven, we have reached an agreement with the company so that bodega owners won’t get displaced,” said Ramón Murphy, president of the Bodega Association of the United States. “We have agreed that bodega owners who want to convert their stores into 7-Elevens will continue to be the owner.”

Murphy also affirmed that a plan is currently under way to make sure that bodega owners can compete with the franchise.

“We’re going to remodel our bodegas so that they are equipped with better technology, and we’ll conduct studies in the neighborhoods where they operate to find out how we can provide better service, which is already excellent,” said Murphy. “Bodegas are a symbol of New York and the face of our community. They will never disappear.”

In Upper Manhattan, which has the largest number of Latino bodegas in the city, the only 7-Eleven that currently competes with bodegas is the one located on Dyckman Street in Inwood.

“I only buy here what I can’t find elsewhere, because my children ask me,” said Tomás Valiente while leaving the store with two slushies (a flavored iced drink). “For everything else, like beans or banana shakes, I always go to the bodega.”

Bodega Owners Prefer to Keep Bodegas as They Are

Some bodega owners aren’t very happy about converting their businesses into 7-Elevens, but they say they would accept it if they had no other choice.

“I inherited my store from my father and I don’t want it to change,” said Fidel, who runs Deli Grocery, on Broadway in Upper Manhattan. “I have five children now. I would have to see what they offer me.”

Other bodega owners are so concerned with the current economic crisis that they don’t have time to think about 7-Eleven’s massive expansion in New York.

“Prices here are getting lower and lower, and everything continues to be a real struggle,” Sergio Pérez said with resignation. Pérez is the owner of La Placita Díaz in Washington Heights.

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