JD's Bodega, Bodega Boise and The Benchmark Bodega All Stake Claims in Boise 

Left to right: The Benchmark Bodega, JD's Bodega and Bodega Boise, which is still under construction.

Lex Nelson / Taylor Hunt

Left to right: The Benchmark Bodega, JD's Bodega and Bodega Boise, which is still under construction.

Of Boise's three newly open or soon-to-open bodegas—JD's Bodega on Capitol Boulevard, The Benchmark Bodega on Overland Road and Bodega Boise at the corner of 10th and Main streets—none perfectly fits the mold of the traditional corner store, but they were all designed to fill the same local void. From the perspectives of those who built them, Boise was lacking in neighborhood stores offering quick, easy access to life's essentials—whether you consider those essentials toothpaste and toilet paper, or beer and bulk coffee. Now, they're each working to carve out niches in the City of Trees.

click to enlarge JD's Bodega is a conventional convenience store, but with plenty of local touches. - LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson
  • JD's Bodega is a conventional convenience store, but with plenty of local touches.

Sitting at a small table near the door of JD's Bodega, owner Josh Davis said he's focused on creating a space that matches the spirit of the classic bodega. Before settling on calling his shop one, he visited bodegas across the country and researched the history of the concept.

"Even though we're not a New York-style bodega and we're not a San Francisco-style bodega, we are defining what a Boise bodega is, and really the essence behind that is about the people, about interacting, about being part of the community and making people feel welcome," Davis said. "Customer service is probably my most important thing."

At first glance, JD's has the vibe of a high-end gas station. There's a F'real milkshake machine on the back wall; a display of grab-and-go food items and drinks; and aisles of snacks, travel toiletries and medicines fill the center of the space. But a closer look reveals local touches, like nuts from City Peanut Shop, bagels from Blue Sky Bagels, and deli sandwiches and salads from nearby Zeppole Bakery. Davis' old skateboards hang on the walls, and the shop's two Dia de los Muertos-inspired logos were designed by a local artist.

click to enlarge JD's Bodega is decorated in part with the owner's old skateboards. - LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson
  • JD's Bodega is decorated in part with the owner's old skateboards.

JD's officially opened Nov. 1, but the public has been coming through since the store's Sept. 10 soft opening. That means that technically, it beat the city's other two bodegas—The Benchmark Bodega, which opened Oct. 20, and Bodega Boise, which is still under construction—in the race to reach the public. While the sudden proliferation of bodegas certainly caught Davis' attention, he said he's not too worried about the competition.

"Even though we've got additional bodegas opening up now, it doesn't really bother me other than from the standpoint that I hope people will understand each one's different, and that I can't control their businesses models, we can only focus on ourselves," he said. "There's plenty of opportunity in this town, and I think if we're all doing it the right way it can be a benefit for everyone."

The Benchmark Bodega owner Kristina Fronger echoed that sentiment, leaning over the counter of her quirky Overland Road store to chat with BW on a slow afternoon.

click to enlarge The Benchmark Bodega has a quirky, handmade feel. - LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson
  • The Benchmark Bodega has a quirky, handmade feel.

"If anything, we all just will feed off each other," she said. "If bodegas are really popular right now, people will want to go to all of them, hopefully."

It's easy to see why Fronger, who previously owned Frog's Fix Coffee Parlor, doesn't think she's competing with Davis. The Benchmark Bodega's model and vibe both diverge sharply from JD's. For one thing, it's a stand-alone shop, perched on the Boise Bench above the hustle and bustle of the downtown core. For another, it focuses on beverages, selling mainly bulk tea, coffee and spices from glass jars, as well as beer and wine. The rest of the shop's merchandise, like locally made gifts and desserts, revolve around that centerpoint.

"I have done coffee forever, and I love beer and wine and mixed drinks, and so I just wanted to open up a store that specialized in those things," Fronger said, adding that the name of her space is a mashup of "Bench," for its location, and "market" for its products.

click to enlarge The Benchmark Bodega sells bulk coffee, tea and spices. - LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson
  • The Benchmark Bodega sells bulk coffee, tea and spices.

The spot has become a destination for pedestrians from nearby neighborhoods, and Fronger plans to upcycle a red bus she owns into a produce market that will pop up in Benchmark's parking lot on weekends.

The third in the bodega trifecta, Bodega Boise, is facing construction delays in the Kount building and has yet to open, though co-owner Taylor Hunt said he hopes to welcome customers to the shop by Friday, Feb. 1. He first started toying with the idea of opening a bodega eight years ago, and said he wasn't surprised to see other entrepreneurs notice the same gap he had.

"I think that [bodegas are] just a really needed thing," Hunt said. "It's something that most cities have, and it's just been kind of oddly vacant here with the huge surge in population."

click to enlarge Bodega Boise is planned as an indoor-outdoor space. - CHRIS DWYER, CTA
  • Chris Dwyer, CTA
  • Bodega Boise is planned as an indoor-outdoor space.

Bodega Boise will separate itself from the pack with an indoor-outdoor dining space, a coffee counter and pinball machines to attract kids from Boise High, along with snacks and essentials like toilet paper and makeup.

"I actually think [the bodega boom is] going to be good for all of us, because I think when people kind of have it in their heads that they're able to buy things downtown, people are probably going to go to whatever's closest to them," Hunt said.

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