What makes one want to buy a broken-down bodega and transform it into a successful business–especially when you already have one? “It was a piece of junk when we got it,” Jahangir Kabir says. “The ceiling was falling down, the floor was messed up, the shelves were smelly, stinky.” And why wouldn’t they be? There was thirty-five years of dirt there. There were expired foods from 2006.
Kabir manages International Convenience in Cambridge MA for his sister Nenufar Jasmine (a silent owner who rarely visits the store). The two of them purchased it when the previous owner no longer wanted it, about the same time as Kabir was struggling to keep his gentrifying landlord from evicting him from his current store. For more about this story, see Fighting for a Bodega.
It was originally called El Colosso Market. I visited it before Mr. Kabir owned it, because I was intrigued by the dilapidated facade and wanted to interview the Bengali owner. He had such trouble with English that we couldn’t communicate, so I reluctantly abandoned my plan. “He is not much of a business man,” added Kabir. “He just didn’t know how to run a convenience store.” According to Mr. Kabir, he even had trouble communicating in his native language. There were rumors he had been in prison.
Unlike at Well Foods Plus, which serves buyers of halāl (orthodox Muslim) food & drink, International Convenience caters to a Latino and Haitian-American clientele. Mr. Kabir designed the facade himself, without a bodega designer. (Yes, such jobs exist.)