Bronx Bodega becomes NYC’s First “Safe Haven Bodega”


The bodega that is now NYC's first "safe haven bodega". (Helen Stevenson/The Fordham Ram)

By Helen Stevenson

Lesandro (“Junior’) Guzman-Feliz, a 15-year-old boy and member of the Belmont community, was killed on June 20, 2018 outside of a Bronx bodega on 183rd Street and Bathgate Avenue. Seven months after the tragedy, the bodega was selected to be New York City’s first “safe haven bodega.”

According to a report by ABC Eyewitness News, the United Bodegas of America partnered with the New York Police Department to create this safety initiative. The program consists of a six-step program including a panic button that calls police, in-store cameras, automatic magnetic locks and bright lights.

“We need for these bodega owners to have the equipment necessary to come forth and not so much risk their lives but save the lives of others,” said Fernando Mateo, spokesperson for United Bodegas of America, to Eyewitness News.

The report said the system costs about $3,000 to $4,000, and only about 10 bodegas have signed up for the program.

Rosa Cruz, who works at the newly appointed “safe haven bodega,” said that the shop has gone through a complete transformation with new safety equipment.

However, she said the project is not finished yet.

“We have not needed to use [the security system] yet, but it is also not completely set up yet,” she said.

However, Cruz said that she feels the system will benefit the community and patrons of the Bathgate bodega.

“I think it is a good idea, and I think people will feel safer when they come in,” she said. “No one has to worry about calling the cops or anything like that.”

In October 2018, The Fordham Ram reported on a silent tribute organized by the Black Student Alliance (ASILI) and El Grito de Lares to commemorate Guzman-Feliz’s life and mourn his death. The event also sought to protest the lack of response from the university and administration.

About 50 students attended the demonstration, with signs that read, “Fordham is our school, the Bronx is our community” and “Am I next?”

Over a week after the demonstration and over four months after Junior’s death, Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., the president of the university, sent a university-wide email addressing the university’s silence.

Robert Howe, assistant vice president for communications and special advisor to the president, said that he realized the importance of the issue after a meeting with the Diversity Action Coalition (DAC) in the Fall of 2018.

“As I said to DAC members as the meeting, I dropped the ball; I hadn’t brought Junior’s death to Father McShane’s attention nor advised a statement at that time because I wasn’t aware of the depth of students’ upset until the Fall semester began,” he said.

Ashley Qamar, FCRH ’20 and chair of DAC, said that the security installation will fight to ensure a tragedy such as this one will never happen again.

“I feel that turning the bodega where Junior passed away into a ‘safe haven’ is a promising step in the right direction,” she said.

She said that the joint efforts of the NYPD and the United Bodegas of America give her hope.

“As a direct result of this initiative, multiple city bodega workers have – with the help of the NYPD – sought out formal training on gang attacks,” she said. “I do think that this furthers the mission of bringing ‘Justice for Junior’ as we continue to grow together as a community.”

El Grito de Lares and ASILI did not respond after several requests for comment.