On Friday morning, the mayoral hopeful tweeted a video of himself buying two green teas and a bunch of bananas at a business in New York City. Yang posted the video in an effort to show his support for bodegas — “let’s support them and keep them open,” he wrote — but he immediately came under fire for location of the shoot. To many viewers, the large-format establishment with wide open aisles did not, in fact, appear to be a bodega.
New York City loves its bodegas! The 14,000 bodegas are vital to our city - let’s support them and keep them open. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/pGb24IerGz— Andrew Yang (@AndrewYang) January 15, 2021
The criticism was swift and direct. Twitter users compared the store to a “whole foods junior” rather than a bodega. Some tweeted pictures of cramped corner bodegas at Yang. Others questioned his ability to govern the city if this was his definition of a bodega. There were comparisons to a popular scene from the Office where, during a visit to NYC, Michael Scott grabs himself a slice of pizza from his favorite joint in the city, the former Sbarro in Times Square. It was brutal.
Andrew Yang walked into the closest Duane Reade & called it a bodega— Cherchez La Femme (@FrankieVtotheD) January 15, 2021
Andrew Yang walking out of a Dos Toros with a "classic NYC burrito"— Chris Gayomali (@chrisgayomali) January 15, 2021
By midday, Yang’s tweet began to trend on Twitter in the U.S.
It was not clear in the video where Yang was when he filmed the bodega support clip. The politician is currently living in the Hudson Valley, in New Paltz, New York, although he also has an apartment in Hell’s Kitchen. Last week, prior to formally declaring his mayoral run, Yang drew sharp criticism for leaving New York City because his two bedroom apartment was too cramped for his family during the pandemic, as he told the New York Times. Yang’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Eater.
Frank Marte, the secretary at the Bodegas and Small Business Association, which represents about 13,000 bodegas across the city, says that there are no specific size or stock requirements for a bodega. His own bodega, located in the Bronx, runs large at 1,900-square-feet, but some can be “a little bigger than a candy store” at 400- to 800-square-feet.
When it comes to defining a bodega, Marte says that the business is most identified by its relationship to its local community. Bodegas stock similar items to a supermarket, often sell sandwiches like a deli, but function separately as a welcome daily pitstop for many to hang out, talk with the owner, and grab a few groceries or something to eat.
“It’s a place where people have friendships, relax, have somebody to listen to them,” Marte says. “That’s what a bodega is.”
Marte hadn’t yet viewed Yang’s video when he spoke with Eater New York, but says that he’s most interested in hearing how Yang plans to support bodegas in his candidacy. Bodega owners and staff were just this week cleared to get vaccinated as part of Phase 1b, he says. It’s a move that Marte welcomes, but he expressed frustration that bodega workers were not included earlier on in the vaccination distribution. Many bodegas never shut down during the pandemic, providing essentials like toilet paper and sanitizer when grocery store shelves were bare earlier this year.
“We were more at risk than many other areas,” Marte says. “There was no protocol. Customers get close to you, come without masks. We still have to deliver the service.”
Bodegas have also reported massive spikes in crime over the past several months. Many owners are currently fighting to get a City Council bill passed that would provide reimbursement for expenses to install panic buttons in their shops as a measure of protection.
Yang, for his part, appears to not be wading further into any bodega discourse. “Haha I love New York,” he tweeted, a few hours after his original bodega tweet racked up a couple thousand replies.
Update, 4:30 p.m.: Sofwan Qaid, the owner of 7 Brothers Famous Deli in Hell’s Kitchen, has confirmed with Eater that Yang filmed the video inside of his establishment. He doesn’t recall Yang coming inside the shop, but identified the deli as his own after viewing the video. Once learning of the controversy that the video generated on Twitter, Qaid was disappointed to hear that people were making fun of Yang online.
“I don’t know what to say to these people,” Qaid says. “That’s not nice.”
Qaid’s business is officially categorized as a deli, as evidenced by the name of the shop, but he says that they call themselves both a deli and a bodega. “It’s the same thing,” Qaid says. He agrees with Yang’s overall message of support for bodegas.