HOPKINS: Bring a grocery store to the Corner

Students should have a healthy, affordable and accessible place to buy groceries

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The Qdoba on the Corner closed down in July 2018. 

Geremia Di Maro | Cavalier Daily

We all mourned the loss of our beloved Qdoba when it closed down last year. There has been a lot of talk about what will replace it —  rumors include a Chipotle, an extension of 1515 or, I assume somewhat jokingly, another Starbucks. But rather than install another restaurant in an area boasting an abundance of them, why not attract an establishment that is sorely missed on the Corner and would serve genuine utility for members of the community? As a popular hub of activity for students and residents alike, the Corner needs a grocery store.

Before the whataboutisms begin, I want to clarify that Cohn’s and the Corner Grocery are convenience stores, not grocery stores. People shop at Safeway for groceries, not 7-11.The Corner in its current state is a food desert. A food desert is an area where access to fresh and healthy affordable food is scarce. Colloquially, it refers to areas with limited or restricted access to things like grocery stores and farmers markets. Generally found in low-income urban areas, food deserts are dangerous because the limited accessibility of healthy food at affordable prices forces consumers to ingest more unhealthy food. 

There is no readily accessible grocery store that services the University’s students at the present time. There is a Kroger and a Harris Teeter in Barracks, which is accessible by car and by the North Line bus. A great deal of students do not have a car or have access to a car, potentially making a trip to the grocery store a significant commitment if forced to take the bus. 99 percent of the time I am a fierce advocate and proponent of taking public transit, but if someone has to make a run to the grocery store, carrying everything on a bus does not seem feasible, nor does it seem wise given the tendency of grocery bags to break. 

That being said, there is an existing option for students to have fresh, locally-sourced food delivered to them at the University. Greens to Grounds is a non-profit run by University students with the purpose of providing healthy and fresh food to the University Community. This a great program at a reasonable cost to students, and having the food available for pickup once a week makes it more accessible than existing grocery stores. 

While this program is fantastic, it do not have the resources to have food available every day of the week like a grocery store would, and the options are more limited than those of a real grocery store. This program is great for the University community and local growers and is a fantastic first step towards greater food accessibility, but ultimately a student group does not have the capabilities to provide food access to the degree a grocery store does. 

In regards to dining hall food, many students at the University do not have a meal plan, and even some of the ones that do either want to be able to prepare their own food at times or are on a meal plan that is inadequate in addressing their dietary needs. Moreover, meal plans at the University are quite expensive — upperclassmen meal plans average out to about $11 per meal — which certainly adds up over time and is downright unaffordable for many students. 

Additionally, even these meal plans are often not enough to sustain students. People run out of swipes and plus dollars, forcing them to resort to whatever restaurants are accessible to them, which usually means the Corner. Most students cannot afford to eat out at a restaurant on the Corner for every meal. Moreover, we should not be endorsing the idea of skipping a meal or two in a day in order to conserve swipes or save money. It should not be a luxury to have adequate access to reasonably-priced food, nor should it be a luxury to want to have options. 

The location that was formerly a Qdoba is a bit small to house a grocery store. But compared to some of the other units on the Corner, it is enormous. If you extend the storefront to include the walk-in patio section, knock down the counters and barriers on the interior and refurbish the area designated for the kitchen maybe as a deli or frozen foods section, you would be able to maximize the utility of the space. It would not be as full service as the Kroger or the Harris Teeter in Barracks, but it would certainly be an improvement of the current situation.  

This is a perfect opportunity for the University and the student body to join together and create something beneficial to both students and the Charlottesville community. Working together to lobby an affordable grocery store to set up shop on the Corner would be a fantastic step towards greater food accessibility for students. Our combined voices should be used in an attempt to rid the Corner of its status as a food desert and bring a grocery store that is affordable and accessible to all students at the University. We as students should take it upon ourselves and lobby Charlottesville to make a concerted effort to bring an affordable grocery store to the Corner.

Chris Hopkins is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com.

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