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Bodega Owner Commutes Across Two States

The dream to succeed is a huge hungry pet. A St. Bernard. A Great Dane. It has to be fed often and a lot. For some, this is merely challenging, for others, impossibly hard. “It is what it is,” dreamers say. “Let’s go for it.” René Peña wanted his own bodega so badly he worked two, sometimes three jobs for Boston cleaning services, like his fellow Dominican Raphael Peña of Yessenia’s Market did. These contracting services clean businesses after hours and require their employees to do backbreaking work. The mops are big and sloppy, the pails so heavy they’re mounted on wheels. Even then, they have to be lifted and drained over high metal sinks. René did this work for ten years, for a daunting eighteen to twenty hours a day.

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La Bodega Latina, Portland, ME
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René Peña

Drudge work didn’t stop when he bought his first bodega, the Columbia Market in Cambridge, MA. There were orders to fill and long hours to stand behind the counter while the business was getting rooted. After twelve more years, he heard through his network about another bodega for sale. In Portland ME, 106 miles away. Not only did he buy La Bodega Latina, he moved up there. The right side of the building is used by Flores, a Salvadoran restaurant, even though the bodega’s sign hangs near its window.

René divides his weeks between bodegas. While managing the Cambridge store, he stays with relatives. In Portland he gets to work near home for a few days. Nevertheless, he’s cavalier about the hellacious commute. “It’s just two hours. I listen to music, get on the phone, put through orders, talk to friends in my country.” The long hours slowly pass while he’s on the road, usually late at night. He shrugs them off like the empty boxes he discards out back. Everything in this life he chose–its independence, its increased income, its sparse free time, and the inevitable family tension– it all comes with the territory. Yet he still has his sense of humor. “Used to be I needed a week off every three months, now it’s every two months!”

I wonder: does he take it? My guess: not often.

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Peter Bates

Peter Bates is a writer and photographer living in Florida. He is the administrator of this blog and runs the blog Stylus.

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6 Comments

  1. Any diff btw what he sells in each place?
    Do sate & location matter? How much? Why?
    Is one muy dominicano than the other?

  2. Jim Haberman Jim Haberman

    Nice posting, Peter. This guy works harder than an artist.

  3. Anonymous Anonymous

    These bodega owners have wonderful stories to tell and are models of perseverance and positive attitude. And amazing how hard they work to attain their dreams!

  4. Rene Rene

    Thanks for a great article. I am the son of Rene Pena and he still continues to work hard at the Portland location. He sold the Columbia Market couple years ago. He lives in peacefully and well rested traveling only once a week to Massachusetts. Thank you again for a great interview!

  5. Anonymous Anonymous

    Is Rene Pena the Owner of Latina Bodega DBA El Super?

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