Students want more grocery options

by Charlie Bartlett

Mechanical engineering freshman Sean Nykaza was expecting to learn how to become more independent when he came to the University of Minnesota.
Part of that would come from buying his own groceries and preparing his own food.
But with few grocery store options around campus, he said that’s been a difficult task.
“When you get here, you have the option to go to the dining hall or go out to eat,” Nykaza said. “But you don’t really have the option to make your own food, since you don’t have a real grocery store on campus.”
To solve this problem, student government leaders are advocating for a fully functioning grocery store near campus that would offer students access to a variety of
fresh foods and produce in addition to the packaged foods already offered at campus convenience stores.
Chase Taylor, the Minnesota Student Association’s Facilities, Housing, and Transit committee director, said the organization has made past efforts to get a grocery store but has yet to see success.
In February, Ward 3 City Councilman Jacob Frey proposed bringing a grocery store to the Downtown East neighborhood — one Green Line stop away from the University’s West Bank campus. 
While Taylor said MSA supports Frey’s plan, he said it still wants to bring a store closer to campus so it would be more accessible to students.
MSA has been looking into the possibility of bringing a grocery store to either Dinkytown or Stadium Village, Taylor said.
Frey said he thinks either area would be a feasible spot for a grocery store but said MSA would need to find a developer willing to invest in the location.
While a store right on campus would be ideal, he said, a place to buy groceries in Downtown East would be a big improvement in terms of access.
MSA conducted a poll among University students and found a high demand for a grocery store close to campus, Taylor said.
“The results were extremely clear,” he said. “[Students] do a lot of their grocery shopping already at grocery stores.”
But those grocery stores aren’t near campus, Taylor said, and accessing them can be both timely and costly.
Nykaza, who currently lives in a residence hall, said he’s moving into an apartment this fall. While he said he plans to purchase a small meal plan from University Dining Services, he’ll still have to find a way to buy groceries.
“I don’t know what to do if I can’t find a friend who has a car,” Nykaza said.
Leslie Bowman, who oversees UDS’ contracts, said in addition to the meal plans offered, there are several convenience store locations throughout the University, but they primarily sell non-perishable grocery items. 
For fresh foods and produce, access on campus is even more limited, Bowman said.
TargetExpress opened in Dinkytown last summer. While it has more food and produce than the convenience stores near campus, Nykaza said it still has fewer options than he had hoped it would.
Bowman said an issue with bringing a store to campus is the lack of available parking spaces in proposed locations, which could deter business.
Still, Nykaza said a grocery store within walking distance would be an important addition to the campus.
“I feel like having that resource would really help students learn what it means to be on their own,” he said.