As the inventors of Bodega learned yesterday, real corner shops actually matter to cities in a way supermarket chains and automated cabinets never can
The Saturday before Christmas 1971, my grandparents worked like crazy making enough corned starch for hundreds of friends in East Oakland. Together theyd invented a secret cornmeal masa recipe to sell at their corner store, El Progreso, in order to make the tastiest tortillas and tamales in the region. Dozens lined up when the store opened, some coming from way out of town, and the whole weekend was a lively scene of people from the community buying, commiserating, gossiping, and laughing. My mother, Irma, remembers families even bringing them food.
By late evening on Sunday, she had to announce to friends still waiting that they were out of masa. Though sad she couldnt give them what they were looking for, she and my grandmother Isabel were amazed at their good fortune, sweating from a full day of honest work as my grandfather Anastasio drank beer in the back room to celebrate with his bakers.
Years earlier, the scene had not been so joyful. When my grandparents bought a small corner store and the surrounding property from an Italian immigrant, their ticket to prosperity seemed unlikely. They eked out a living: raising three children, working multiple jobs, and learning about market pricing and budgeting. The first day they opened the store, they only made $12.43 (9.30). They often went to bed wondering if their purchase had been worth it.