Sep 20, 2017

The "reinvention" of vending machines

A fully-stocked Bodega pantry for an apartment. Photo: Bodega

Two ex-Googlers are creating a commotion with a Plain Jane re-contemplation of the standard issue vending machine.

Ashwath Rajan and Paul McDonald are promoting the installation of small shops in the lobbies of dorms, offices and apartments, stocking them with typical convenience store items, and allowing payment with a mobile app (photo above). No advance there. But social media is erupting with outrage at the threat to the traditional corner store.

What's the big deal? The venture, which Rajan and McDonald call Bodega, invents precisely nothing: Percival Everitt conceived of the vending machine in 1883. Lobby pantries go back to Shakespeare and before. Throughout, immigrants and others have opened and run their convenience stores. Relax, folks.

Bodega launched Sept. 13 in 30 locations in San Francisco. The inflamed outpouring followed quickly, including from places where Bodega does not exist. "You can't just bundle cultural appropriation and gentrification and call that a company," tweeted Daniel Mortenson, a Brooklyn freelance writer.

Academics welcomed the opportunity to philosophize on the milieu.

  • "We in New York are living through a crisis of local shops," Sharon Zukin, a sociologist at CUNY Brooklyn, told Axios.
  • People have "a surface interest" to live in cities, said John Stehlin, an urban geographer at UC Berkeley, "but there are technologies that allow you to withdraw" from urban life.

Against the fear that Bodega will put local stores out of business, threatening the livelihoods of the middle-class immigrant families who often own and run these stores, McDonald wrote in a Medium post, "Challenging the urban corner store is not and has never been our goal." Instead, Bodega will go to "places where commerce currently doesn't exist."

Go deeper

Public transit's death spiral

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Public transit systems across the country are experiencing a painful trifecta: Ridership has collapsed, funding streams are squeezed, and mass transit won't bounce back from the pandemic nearly as fast as other modes of transportation.

Why it matters: Transit agencies could see an annual shortfall of as much as $38 billion due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to TransitCenter. At the same time, they're more important than ever, with more than 36% of essential workers relying on public transportation to get to work.

World coronavirus updates: London mayor says U.K. nowhere near lockdown lifting

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern offered hope in the fight against the novel coronavirus, saying she believes New Zealand has "turned a corner" after two weeks of strict lockdown measures. But London Mayor Sadiq Khan has said the U.K. is "nowhere near" lifting restrictions.

The big picture: COVID-19 has killed over 82,000 people and infected 1.4 million others globally as of early Wednesday, per Johns Hopkins data. Global recoveries have surpassed 301,000. Spain has reported the most cases outside the U.S. (more than 141,000) and Italy the most deaths (over 17,000). Half the planet's population is on lockdown.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 26 mins ago - Health

Wisconsin may be the start of the 2020 election wars

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Wisconsin voters braving lines in face masks — after a last-minute Supreme Court ruling against extending the absentee deadline — could foreshadow a nationwide legal struggle over how to conduct elections during the coronavirus outbreak, election experts say.

Why it matters: "It's a harbinger of what's to come in the next skirmishes in the voting wars" from now through November, Richard Hasen, a professor and national election law expert at the University of California, Irvine, told Axios.