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Bodegas Should Sell Loosie Tampons

It's a win-win scenario.

12:10 PM EDT on July 27, 2023

A bunch of individually wrapped tampons superimposed over a photo of the interior of a bodega.

Illustration: Hell Gate / Unsplash (Matthew LeJune)

It's an awful moment: the realization that your period is happening while you're out in public and unprepared to deal with it. You feel an unmistakable wet puddle seeping into your underwear, and you don't need to look at it to know it's red, it's spreading, and, if left unattended, it will get so big that you'll have to grab a "We ❤️ NYC" sweatshirt from a nearby tourist shop to wear around your waist all day, like a Nebraskan middle schooler on a family vacation.

Maybe you forgot it was supposed to start that day or you forgot to change your tampon before you left home. Maybe you're on your way to a job interview, or dinner with a bunch of friends. Wherever you are, it's far away from your house, and every minute without supplies brings you closer to a visibly bloody reckoning. 

Panicked terror follows. You spy a Duane Reade in the distance, only to find upon arrival that the smallest box of tampons they sell is a 12-pack, and you can't fit the whole thing in your miniature Telfar. You've been dealing with your period for over ten years, but somehow, you've yet to master keeping blood off your underwear. Menopause can't come soon enough, you sigh as you resign yourself to buying the entire box and shoving as many tampons as you can into your tiny purse, dreading the ensuing journey of finding a bathroom. 

We don't have to live like this, for a simple solution exists. New Yorkers already count easy access to loosie cigarettes among our many civic prides. The concept of separating a little white cylindrical object from its pack and selling it for $1 under the table is universally accepted, even cherished. The infrastructure is already in place, and we just need to put it to a second use—bodegas should sell loosie tampons. 

Any time I mention this idea to friends, their faces light up. "How have I never thought of this before?" one said to me last week. And yet, this arrangement appears not to have occurred to most bodega owners. In the last two weeks, I visited roughly 30 bodegas across Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, asking whoever was at the counter, "Can I get a single tampon?" Most of the guys responded with a stare or nervous shifting, then either asked me to repeat my question or wordlessly pushed a Tampax box across the counter. When I clarified I just wanted one tampon, they shook their heads, and I left, bereft. The only person who understood right away what I was asking for was also the only woman I saw working. "Sorry, honey," and a pitying look were all she could give me.  

Bodega guys, like too many men (still!), might be less than delighted at being asked to handle menstrual products. To them I say: margins. At my bodega, a box of 10 regular tampons costs $4.99, meaning that the owners would be making twice as much per box selling loosies, maybe a little more since the transaction wouldn't involve credit cards. (In this scenario, single pads would also be available, also for $1, an even fatter markup.) 

You might be thinking, "I love my bodega guy, but our relationship is not ready for this level of intimacy." There is indeed a difference between buying a box of tampons, which says "I am responsible and full of foresight," and buying a loosie, which signals the vulnerability of desperation. Intellectually, you know period stigma is an oppressive hoax, but your triumph over menstrual shame might recede in the face of panic. Here's the thing: You don't need to buy a loosie from your bodega guy. If you were that close to your apartment, you'd either just go home and use a tampon you already have, or buy a whole box at the bodega to then use at home. Mercifully, your loosie purchases will always be from someone else's bodega guy, whom you will never see again, and who will instantly forget your face among the thousands that pass his counter daily. 

Ideally, bodegas would pair a loosie with an offer to use their bathroom; one is most likely to purchase a loosie when one needs to use it immediately. Perhaps the elusive public bathroom will happen to be within walking distance, but barring that, you may need to buy a coffee somewhere. Barring that, you could find a discreet alcove and apply just out of view. Should someone stumble upon you mid-insertion, rest assured that, like the bodega guy, they will forget you shortly, and it probably won't be the weirdest thing they see that week anyway. 

I've thought about this for years, given that I'm only ever on the hunt for a single tampon. (I typically use a menstrual cup, and I hate—hate—having to buy a whole box of tampons, because I will never use it up.) I've even considered an alternate life as a girlboss entrepreneur running a company called Lucy's that stocks single-serving tampons at bodegas and the travel-size aisles of drugstores (free idea for you, Unilever). But this would be wasteful, and is not in the spirit of New York City. 

Here, our social contract demands that, whenever possible, we pay in cash to support our neighbors' side hustles, instead of lining the pockets of some CEO. It gives us the grace to rely on strangers for help in our most desperate moments. It encourages us to figure things out ourselves instead of waiting around for the city, or an annoying startup, to do it for us. But most importantly, living here includes the tender reassurance that the bodegas dotting our streets can save us from anything, at any hour. 

Well, almost anything. Give us loosie tampons, and we're good.

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