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The Disappearing Bodega/Corner store

August 6, 2008
Lefty, bknesto(middle), "Get it on" Ron '94

Lefty, bknesto(middle), "Get it on" Ron '94


         During the past decade it’s no secret that mom and pop businesses in New York City have been rapidly closing, many due to exorbitant rents that have risen as a result of gentrification. It’s a trend that continues to happen all over the city…from Hells Kitchen to Harlem and beyond.  In this neighborhood, alot of family run independent business have been affected, but one in particular may be going the way of the video rental store…the bodega/corner store/convenience store.

       This is will be another series I’m starting, covering the ones that have left over years and whatever memories I may have about them(presumably most will be brief).  Now let me be the first to say that not ALL of these bodegas closed as a result of gentrification. The thing with a lot of bodegas/corner stores, atleast in my experience is that you tend to go in so much for little things, which in turn breeds a familiarity, which then leads to a genuine rapport. The next thing you know, you’re meeting the wife, kids, brothers cousins etc. because in most cases they are family run operations where everyone pitches in. You walk in, they know your brand of ciggs, how you like your hero sandwich made( lettuce, tomatoes thinly sliced, salt & pepper, a li’l bit of mayo & a li’l bit of mustard lol), and let you know when they are out of your favorite items(usually…ALWAYS blamed on the delivery man lol).

          The first disappearing bodega is T & J mini market, a store close to my heart that was located on the corner of Waverly and Greene avenues, which is now the restaurant Speakeasy. The store was named after the owners Tito and Jose who got the store in about 1980. The previous owner was an old timer from the hood named Billy who also had a numbers spot around the corner. I can remember going to the store for the first time on a sunday morning to get the newpapers for my father and a few items for my mother. With list in hand, walking with my chest out I stepped in the store, grabbed the papers then handed my list to Tito at the counter.  After shouting the items to one of his workers in spanish, Tito packed my bag, while simultaneously checking the list to make sure I had everything. Walking out beaming with pride, I strolled past the older women wearing their sunday crowns on the way to church service. Saying “good morning” to each of them so they would see me, I was thinking to myself…”I’m one of the big kids now!”.

             Eventually Tito moved on to open another bodega, which is located on Dekalb between St.James place and Washington ave., right next door to Luigi’s Pizza. He stills owns it to this day. Unfortunately Jose was murdered in the store in ’91 in what appeared to be a hit. They shot him along with a worker but none of the customers were harmed. I know a few people who were in the store that evening. The store was then run by Jose’s cousin Nelson who partnered with him when Tito moved on, it remained a family operation until it was sold. I know they had their reasons for selling and wish them the best…although I will probably always miss this store. The other night while in speakeasy with my mom having a drink, she got a call. After the person on the phone asked what she was doing, she replied “I’m in the store having a drink with my son” lol. Above is a picture of me with some friends in front of the store in ’94…Peep the price for a gallon of milk!!

7 Comments leave one →
  1. sluggo permalink
    August 6, 2008 11:11 pm

    Like you, I grew up out in the clinton hill/prospect heights area and I definitely saw the changes every semester when I got back from school! I miss the days when you can walk into a family store and you can run a tab! Those days are over.

  2. bknesto permalink
    August 6, 2008 11:33 pm

    I can definitely relate…I remember establishing my first credit line in T & J. It was marked down in a black and white composition book!

  3. la duchessa permalink
    August 7, 2008 1:50 am

    the corner store/bodega is a gem of city living that one couldn’t possibly understand unless they “ran down to the corner” on a regular basis or stopped in every morning on their way to the train. my corner bodega is run by three generations of a dominican family and they are awesome. they know everybody who comes in… and if you’re short $1, no problem, because they know you’ll be back tomorrow to even the scales.

    bknesto, was the spot on waverly and greene the same owners up until they sold for speakeasy to move in? when i lived on vanderbilt and greene a few years back it was my corner bodega, too, and they were sweethearts in there.

    a sad bodega closing for me was when i discovered that ralph had closed up shop on lafayette and s. portland.

  4. bknesto permalink
    August 7, 2008 2:28 am

    La duchessa, It was kinda passed on to family members through the years. The one who sold it, Nelson was a cousin of the Nelson who took over after Jose was murdered. They were also dominican.

  5. August 7, 2008 12:03 pm

    I grew up in Hoboken, before gentrification. There are one or two bodegas left, but otherwise the place is completely devoid of them now. It’s a shame. It’s a great feeling when you’re in a place where the owner has seen you grow up from the time you were 4. To this day–even though I’ve since moved out–all it takes is a simple nod at the bagel place to get my order perfect. When I visit my parents now, I’m left with CVS as my only real option when I forget to bring deodorant or something vitally important like that.

    In Hoboken, even the old Italian delis are closing and being replaced by Subway and Panera. No one can make a hero like an Italian deli.

    @duchessa I was under the impression Ralph was just remodeling Did he sell it?

  6. la duchessa permalink
    August 7, 2008 3:29 pm

    oh… i’m not sure! i walked by and saw ralph’s shuttered. would be great news if it was just being remodeled!

  7. August 17, 2008 11:19 pm

    I just saw Tito today in front of Luigi’s… he still stops by for pizza now and then. He gave me several huge hugs and I told him how we all missed him. I’ve lived on Washington and Dekalb for nearly a decade since I started at Pratt and never left. It was so nice to see him and a piece of the neighborhood that I knew. That’s not to knock the new owners but I just don’t know them like I knew Tito and his family.

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