A couple weeks before Christmas I wanted to get a few jars of Peanut Butter Americano to give as gifts, but I missed the public market that weekend. Fortunately, the PB Americano website pointed me to Bodega 420 as one of the places I can get a PB fix any day of the week. One visit and I knew this was my kind of place.
Bodega 420 sits at the corner of Fifth Street and Roosevelt, in an old house right in the middle of an active community full of artists, students and young professionals. In 2012, owners Adrian & Mona Fontes and John Sagasta recognized the neighbors needed groceries and other basics but lacked easy access to those everyday essentials. They opened Bodega 420 with a small assortment of products and decided to see how it would go. The sign outside touts hardware, smokes and snacks but this little store offers something better than all of that – connection with the community.
The shop is eclectic with a wide variety of merchandise in a pretty small space. In the first room, there is the counter where you can buy basic convenience store things like cigarettes, candy, headache or upset stomach medicine, allergy remedies and condoms. Above the old fireplace behind the counter hangs a pegboard full of hardware and art supplies. When I asked Adrian about it he told me, “It’s back there so [customers] need help with it, which makes an interaction happen. It’s not just grab it, pay for it, and leave and keep your head down and don’t talk. You have to actually interact to get to that stuff, and that’s by design.” Customers can also ask for bulk grains, beans and pastas. Local musicians count on Bodgea 420 for a little stash of everyday music essentials like strings and drumsticks and can even special order instruments and supplies.
On day one the owners painted a chalkboard on the front wall and christened it “The ¿Wachoo Want? Board.” Customers add products to this communal wish list and their neighbors come along and add a checkmark if they agree. When an item gets enough checkmarks it is added to the product assortment in the store. This is also how they’ve grown from a few shelves of hardware and household basics to include an expanded selection of grocery items, an impressive variety of fresh produce, music and art supplies, bulk foods and local specialties. Their newest endeavors include a weekly farmer’s market and new cold-pressed juices.
Fresh Produce in the Food Desert
Before Bodega 420 the neighborhood was a complete food desert which means there was no place to buy fresh, affordable, healthy food for miles in each direction. Now, local produce from Crooked Sky Farm on 16th St & Buckeye shares space with hyper-local fare that is grown on-site.
The garden is in its second year and going strong. Carrots, bok choy, spinach, arugula, lettuce, kale, parsley, fennel, sweet peas, beets, basil, heirloom tomatoes and sunflowers grow in the rich earth that master gardener Tim has coaxed and composted from desert tan to rich brown. The kale plants are so prolific that they look untouched the day after Mona and Adrian harvest them for juicing. Their parsley patch can’t be stopped. I can only hope the heirloom tomato starter I bought will do as well under my care as they’re doing in the bodega garden.
One of the many things I love about Bodega 420 is the focus on local. The community needs a reliable source for Spaghetti-Os and ramen noodles and you’ll find those items on the bodega shelves. You’ll also find Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap right next to the Irish Spring because there is a demand for both products. Sometimes people are surprised that a place that carries so many fresh foods and local products would also carry Hunts ketchup or Fancy Feast cat food, but that’s what the community wants and needs so that’s what is on the shelves.
Still, there are many local treasures to be found. All of the ice cream, butter, farmer’s cheese and Greek yogurt they sell is from Udder Delights in Gilbert. The eggs come from Hickman’s Farm. I already mentioned the PB Americano – they carry all the flavors and the new almond butter, too. The peppers, pickles and relish are by Mrs. Klien’s and made over on 43rd avenue. They carry coffee beans from Jobot coffee just across the street. The Olive Leaf Tea Company just opened their first brick and mortar store but Bodega 420 was the first place to give them shelf space to sell their product. If you need seasonings you can find the locally mixed Slavo Salt or the most perfect chile powder and condiments ever from Santa Cruz Chile and Spice Company. When the demand for e-cigarettes increased, they found a local supplier who produces lab-grade product in a safe environment, so they rolled out a line of e-cigs and accessories just in time for First Friday this month.
Art and All the Rest
As if all of this wasn’t enough, Bodega 420 is a gallery. Adrian says, “Every month we put a new artist up. [This month’s artist is] a photographer and you can see her work all through the store…so that’s how we do our art shows. And it is really a function of sticking with the roots of the place. We’re in an arts community, so we want to have art on the walls.” In addition to the artists they nurture, Bodega 420 is something of a business incubator. There’s a jeweler who sells her work in the shop. The soap guy makes his product just a few blocks away and sells it at the market. Local artists were asking for more types of paint but it wouldn’t work well at the shop so Adrian urged a neighbor to create a paint shop on his property. A small children’s clothing shop called The Squid and The Monkey got its start at Bodega 420.
Tonight is Third Friday. If you’re in the ‘burbs like me, consider a trip downtown tonight and be sure to stop by the store. Grab yourself an old-fashioned Faygo Root Beer, sit down on the porch and chat with a new friend. Listen to live music. Watch the people go by. Be part of a community and appreciate all that Bodega 420 has to offer. I hope to see you there!