The Plot to Kill the Last Remaining Bodegas


Governor Cuomo’s teen fun task force, which was created with a $147,000 grant from the NYC Department of Health to the State Liquor authority, has completed its first mission: The team visited 74 stores (not bars) across the five boroughs, 32 of which sold alcohol to underage decoys.

BAD WORK, bodega adults:

In total, the undercover minors were able to purchase alcohol at 32 of premises visited, including one out of 15 stores in the Bronx, 15 out of 16 stores in Brooklyn, 5 out of 21 stores Manhattan, 8 out of 16 stores in Queens, and 3 out of 6 stores on Staten Island. During the investigation, SLA Investigators entered the grocery and liquor stores separately from the undercover minor to observe and verify when illegal transactions occurred.

The results were presented oddly, with an emphasis on the cross-borough nature of the campaign, so the results don’t really say what they seem to say — these were actually short, focused marches, one bodega after the other, through a small handful of neighborhoods. This is very clear when the data is mapped, which you can see here.

For example, the “Brooklyn” sweep, in which all but one store violated the law, hit two small areas: a patch of South Williamsburg in the Marcy-Hewes-Metropolitan triangle; and short parallel stretches of 7th and 5th avenues in Park Slope below 9th street:


Alphabet City got the brunt of the team’s first trip to Manhattan:


In Queens, investigators swept down Parsons Boulevard and then methodically approached Astoria on Broadway; in Staten Island, Tompkinsville racked up a few violations.

Anyway, this is just the beginning of what sounds like an extensive additional crackdown:

Through September 2014, the SLA will coordinate its regular city-wide details by conducting targeted compliance checks by the new unit at over 1,000 licensed premises. In addition to conducting compliance details, the SLA will compile data on the number of details by patrol borough, the number of licensed businesses visited, the number of non-compliant businesses, the number of repeat compliance visits for locations found selling to minors, and the disciplinary action taken by the SLA against violators…

Licensees charged by the SLA with underage sales face civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation, with fines starting from $2,500 to $3,000 for a first time offense.

Some quick bad math: Assuming the best-case scenario for EVERY store fined this time around — first time offense, $2,500 apiece — violators will pay out at least $80,000 (maximum fines all around would bring that number to $320,000, and likely result in a few shutdowns).

But this is just the first sweep: According to the Governor’s office, this little grant will result in visits to about 1,000 total stores by September of this year. The first sweep was targeted oddly — a would-be underage drinker might think to visit those Williamsburg locations for easy beer, for example, but the targeted stretch of 7th avenue in Park Slope is populated entirely by infants and police officers — but still resulted in a violation rate of around 43%. Even if bodega owners become a little more cautious over the next few months they’re still in for a fair amount of pain.

In Brooklyn and Manhattan, at least, the places targeted so far tend to be bodega bodegas. That is to say: With few exceptions, they’re not operated by a large chain. They serve only the neighborhoods immediately around them, which are gentrifying quickly or gentrified long ago. The Park Slope, Williamsburg and Alphabet City violators list can also be read as a catalog of the last remaining familiar, reasonably affordable, kale-free places to buy stuff or say hello to another human or buy $1 coffee or loiter or to just exist for a few minutes. Or to buy alcohol illegally, sure! But a thousand stings later, it might be hard to look back at this and see anything else but a tax, and a regressive one.