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Stephen L. Carter

Don’t Call It a Convenience Store: The New York Bodega Is So Much More

A brief history of how New Yorkers of all stripes came to use a Puerto Rican term for the city's family-owned corner groceries.

A little slice of heaven.

A little slice of heaven.

Photographer: Cindy Ord/Getty Images

In a marvelous Twitter lovefest, New Yorkers have been listing the reasons they love their local bodegas: owners who’ll give you a free scoop of butter if that’s all you need, or who’ll sell you hamburger bun “loosies” — yes, that’s evidently a thing — and, maybe most important, sandwiches to satisfy that 1 a.m. craving.

For the inveterate wordsmith, this outpouring of delight leads to an intriguing mystery: How and when did a Spanish word meaning “cellar” or “storeroom” come to be assimilated into English as synonymous with a convenience store, often family-owned and open all night?