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What you need to know about navigating the Charlottesville grocery store circuit

A complete guide to where to find the best prices, quality and overall shopping experience

<p>The quality and freshness of produce is an especially important component in rating how good a grocery store is.&nbsp;</p>

The quality and freshness of produce is an especially important component in rating how good a grocery store is. 

This summer, tired of unsatisfying visits to dining halls, I decided to opt out of a meal plan altogether. I felt that I had enough cooking experience to take on feeding myself. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was the vast variety of options for grocery shopping in Charlottesville. Some chains I was familiar with, but others I had never heard of. And what about the small local food stores in the area? After a few months of exploring and comparing grocery stores in the area, I have compiled this list of ratings on local stores.

Wegmans at Fifth Street Station

Atmosphere: ★★★★★

Price: $$$

Location: ★★☆☆☆

Wegmans is excellent for shopping for very good-quality prepared food. This makes it a great option for college students who are still developing cooking skills or cannot always find the time to cook entire meals for themselves. Their prices are higher, but their produce and meat are extremely fresh and high-quality. The store’s organization is interrupted by some non-food products, which makes it somewhat hard to navigate effectively. 

Food Lion Branchlands Blvd

Atmosphere: ★★☆☆☆

Price: $$

Location:★★★☆☆

This grocery store is clean and well organized, but they do not carry a wide range of brands. Although you can get a bargain at Food Lion on many products, their health food and organic food options are similarly priced to other grocery stores. Their parking lot is secluded and not well lit, which can be a concern for anyone shopping alone at night. The quality of some of their food, especially meats, is below average. 

Kroger at Barracks Road Shopping Center

Atmosphere: ★★★☆☆

Price: $$

Location:★★★★★

This grocery store is extremely popular with University students and stays very busy. Unfortunately, the store’s organization makes it feel crowded. Their employees are very friendly and helpful. Their rewards program also helps keep their prices on the lowest end of the spectrum of Charlottesville’s grocery stores, but you have to sign up with the Kroger Community Rewards program. 

Rebecca’s Natural Food in Barracks Road Shopping Center

Atmosphere: ★★★☆☆

Price: $$$$

Location:★★★★★

This grocery store is a specialty and health food store that offers a variety of local and organic snacks, produce and meat. The store is small, but the employees are very attentive. I was excited to find that they have a make-your-own almond butter station, as well as the pay-by-weight spices, which are convenient if you only need a small quantity of a spice. The prices are more expensive, since they do not carry mass-produced brands, but the quality and uniqueness of the food is obvious. 

Harris Teeter at Barracks Road Shopping Center

Atmosphere: ★★★★☆

Price: $$$$

Location:★★★★★

Location and quality are hard to beat and it can be easily reached by the Northline or by car. Every time that I visit, there are ample produce, bakery and dairy samples around the store. Harris Teeter is excellently organized and well lit, making the experience of shopping here very pleasant. Their prices fall in the middle to upper range. 

Trader Joe’s at the Shops at Stonefield 

Atmosphere: ★★★★★

Price: $$$

Location:★★★☆☆

I found produce, meat and dairy products to be slightly more expensive here than Kroger and Food Lion. Snacks and non-perishables are considerably less. Trader Joe’s is best for finding unique snacks — carrot cake spread and tortilla chips seasoned with brussel sprouts — and neat seasonal treats — butternut squash mac ‘n cheese and Pumpkin-O’s. The store is small and easy to navigate. They have excellent customer service and their employees routinely check on customers. 

Costco Wholesale at the Shops at Stonefield

Atmosphere: ★☆☆☆☆

Price: $$ 

Location:★★★☆☆

Costco is best for bulk shopping which makes it a poor option for college students that are only shopping for one. The store is huge and I found it overwhelming to try to find specific items that I was looking for on my own, but the employees were very friendly. The other catch is that although they have very low prices, you have to become a member of the community to shop here. They also have a gas station located in their parking lot. 

Whole Foods Market at Hydraulic Road

Atmosphere: ★★★★★

Price: $$$$$

Location: ★★★★☆

This store has the most expensive prices that I have found in Charlottesville. They also have a wide range of prepared foods and an excellent bakery with tons of gourmet cakes. Whole Foods is very well organized and also has a small cafe serving coffee and tea, an excellent pick-me-up for all shoppers. They have a variety of natural and organic options, including make-your-own trail and nut mixes.

At the end of the day, where you shop has a lot to do with personal preference and familiarity. I have found that after exploring my options, becoming a regular at one store has allowed me to be an efficient shopper. This way I know where most products are and I am able to stay up to date on sales. If the grocery store that you frequent has a rewards program, I would suggest signing up. These rewards add up and are the way to get the best bang for your buck. Making the most of your time and money is important in college and it can be profitable to consider both when choosing where you shop. 

Hailey Eaves is a Food Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com

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