Brace yourselves: This is a post about NYC bodegas

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24-hour corner grocery store in the Lower East Side, Manhattan, NYC
Photo: Busà Photography (Getty Images)

Time is a flat circle over on Twitter, where the same few arguments crop up every few months, as if we have not already wasted hours of our finite lives litigating these very matters over and over again. This week, the conversation has turned once more to New York City’s most prominent cultural flashpoint: the bodega. Twitter user/comedian/TV writer/NYC resident Alison Leiby (perhaps unwittingly) kicked off the latest round of discourse with a rather innocuous tweet about her local bodega:

If you’re wondering why this simple tweet has sent Twitter into a nationwide spiral for nearly 24 hours, let me attempt to explain. First of all, the word “bodega” is not generally used in other areas, even other large cities, like Chicago (where we favor the term “corner store,” “liquor store,” or “convenience store”). For New Yorkers, that uniqueness is worn like a badge of honor, and the bodega is an institution worth honoring and protecting. It’s where people see their neighbors; buy a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich in their hour of need; and build a friendly rapport with the employees (and, of course, the cats). It is unequivocally a good thing that folks in NYC would rather patronize their local bodega than the big box store up the street. Nothing but love and respect to the bodega.

And yet, for anyone who does not and/or has never lived in New York, the word also encapsulates a certain coastal self-importance, a performance of one’s connection to their neighborhood rather than a genuine demonstration of it. When people lovingly fawn over their bodegas in an “Only in New York!” fashion, it can cause the rest of the nation to bristle, because it’s perceived as New Yorkers betraying, yet again, their conviction that NYC is a more worthy and exciting place than anywhere else that people might deign to live. Well-stocked convenience stores are not unique to New York, after all, and they can be pretty special places no matter where you live.


So Leiby’s tweet from yesterday naturally stoked all these smoldering embers once again, with folks on both sides of the debate proclaiming some version of either IT’S NOT ALWAYS ABOUT YOU, NEW YORK or IF YOU DON’T LIVE HERE, YOU COULDN’T POSSIBLY UNDERSTAND. Many people (including Padma Lakshmi) pointed out that it’s mostly a joke about impulse-buying M&Ms and that anyone turning it into anything bigger is just looking for a fight. There are thousands upon thousands of replies, and no matter how people weigh in, one thing is clear: we’ve all been here before. None of this is new, none of the resentments or passions or frustrations. The bodega debate has come around before, and it will come around again. Leiby’s sentiment and intention are almost beside the point; if her tweet hadn’t kicked it off, it would’ve been someone else’s. Only in New York! on Twitter!