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Grocery store should accommodate students

Royal Purple Staff

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The Whitewater community continues to express a strong desire for a grocery store to fill the gaping void left by Sentry in December 2015, but the success of that effort teeters in the balance based on the accessibility of the new option for cash-strapped student budgets.
The city seems to be riddled with angst and impatience in bringing a grocery store back to Whitewater. The community has since then relied on Walmart to sustain the community’s grocery needs. Many residents have expressed their displeasure with that reality at various Common Council meetings over the last couple years. One City of Whitewater Common Council alderperson, Carol McCormick, ran her campaign partially on establishing a grocery store to the city.
With the support of a $10,000 grant from the Whitewater Community Development Authority (CDA), more than 260 community members invested the $150 ownership fee to move the collective objective of opening a local food co-op forward.
Opening a food co-op would mean Whitewater would have a new option for residents to purchase groceries from, but we should not – and cannot – open a sustainable grocery option without the students’ participation.
The co-op should offer an option for students to invest in the enterprise with a lower cost. One could argue that Sentry went under because of its higher costs, and its inability to compete with lower prices next door at Walmart.
If the co-op is structured in a similar way that economically shuts out students, you might see the Whitewater Foundation scoping up another building.
The standard set-up of a co-op includes four sets of revenue: an initiation fee, the purchase of a share in the co-op to make one an “owner,” an annual fee to retain a membership and then on top of that, the cost of actually purchasing food at the store.
To a student who works part-time and likely makes anywhere between $7.25 to $10 an hour, that’s a far stretch.
Students should either be waived of initiation, share and annual fees all together on a one-year basis if they want to become a member, or receive a student-discount option that makes shopping at a co-op a feasible reality.
If students don’t have an affordable option in the co-op, the problem that shut down Sentry in the first place will persist. Students will continue to shop at WalMart. When a pocketbook is at stake, students would much rather spend a lower price on apples that came from who-knows-where than a local farmer.
We are living in an age where we are more likely to be environmentally conscious in our purchases. Farmer’s markets and locally grown options are a popular option with students, but one of those values – economy and environment consciousness – one is always guaranteed to win out.
To further worsen the problem, if the more permanent community of residents invests in a grocery option that is out of reach for students, you can be guaranteed the divide between the community and the students will deepen. We can’t think of a better way for students to find a way to resent the surrounding community than having them create a grocery option that is completely out of financial reach of students.
And then when it fails? We’ll be right back where we were when Sentry closed – students will get blamed for not shopping at the grocery store and opting for the local big box store option or continuing to take their money out of the community to Festival Foods, Woodman’s or Target nearby.
Because, whether the students and the permanent community like it or not, we are all residents of Whitewater, and shutting the other out of an economic resource is not going to be a sustainable business model.

7 Comments

7 Responses to “Grocery store should accommodate students”

  1. Marie on October 26th, 2017 8:27 am

    I make a terrible wage working for the university and I’m gouged even more in my rent and living costs because of the student presence in this town–but you know what? I still scraped together the $150 LIFETIME MEMBERSHIP FEE. There is no annual fee. Maybe check with the WGC before throwing shade. I fully understand the symbiotic gown-n-town relationship we share, I’ve been an undergrad, a grad student, and an employee here for over a dozen years. Perhaps students could just pay an annual fee–which would preclude them from the lifetime buy-in, and receive the same benefits as a member for the time they are enrolled. But that is neither here nor there if the WGC cannot get off the ground and open a location. Participation in this community is a two-way street. Your life here is not a commodity to be bought like so many of you consider your degrees–it’s a life, a community, an experience that you need to work for as a resident of the community.

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  2. Tricia Borchardt on October 26th, 2017 8:46 am

    Whitewater Grocery Co. held its first ever owners meeting last night. The vision for this store is a place for ALL to shop. Students would not need to buy a membership to shop there. Although the goal is to have locally sourced foods, affordability is also very high on this list. This store, although owned by its members will be free and open to all and may be one of the only ways this town will have a store. We look forward to participation in this venture by all who call Whitewater home.

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  3. Jaime on October 26th, 2017 4:06 pm

    I hope someone at the cooperative is already writing a response to this. This is not researched and full of false information.

    The store is not built yet. These first folks who are spending $150 are building the store FOR YOU TO SHOP IN. They are investing in our future as a community. Students come and go. I have been here about 5 years and when I leave Whitewater won’t miss me. But they will still need a store. And that store will be open to everyone. All coops I know are. But who will shop there in the summer? Who will support it for 10 years and not just 4? The people who make Whitewater a permanent residence thats who. I work in a local business and I see these people and get to know them and they are good people who would love to see us join this town, move here, start families. They are not out to get us so knock it off.

    No store is going to be cheaper than Wal-Mart. Bottom line. Not possible. So we need to get over that and decide what is important to us. Yes we have to make tough choices and often economics wins. But if you really want to make a difference you will figure out a way to make it work. If you just want cheap food, then you have nothing to complain about. You have Wal-Mart already.

    I am a member of Willy Street Coop in Madison and my parents are members of Outpost in Milwaukee and I can tell you that no coop I have heard of charges 4 different fees. It’s a one time membership OR a yearly membership. And since the store is not open yet there is obviously no reason to renew annually. Plus its right on their webiste. One time, lifetime fee. Do some research.

    Instead of complaining, maybe call them or email them and see if you can help. They are unpaid volunteers and I am sure they could use the assistance.

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  4. Learn the facts before expressing an opinion on October 27th, 2017 11:48 am

    If this is an example of the type of journalism student that is created at the university there is no hope in improving the relationships between diverse groups of people. You are guessing what a CO-OP will be like. You obviously did not talk to any of the people who took action to help improve a situation. Good luck on your career writing clickbait pieces for some eye cancer of a website.

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  5. Krista on October 27th, 2017 1:47 pm

    Ditto the two comments prior. The author of this article could have at least ASKED what the current vision is for WGC. Assuming does what???

    Whitewater is a very economically diverse town. While there’s no “final” plan yet, it seems many owners like the idea of providing affordable staples for everyone, and if necessary, subsidizing the cost with premium offerings. And again, ANYONE will be able to shop there. It will not be a private club!

    Do you want to have a say in how this runs??? Then scrape together $150 for your lifetime membership (no annual fees!!!). Please tell me there’s not dumber things you’ve thrown $150 at!

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  6. Dr. Karl Brown on November 1st, 2017 2:21 pm

    Dear Royal Purple editorial board,

    I’m writing to clear up a misconception, and ask you to rethink what came across as an unduly antagonistic and divisive stance, in your 25 October opinion piece, “Grocery Store Should Accommodate Students.” (Full disclosure: my wife was a member of the Whitewater Co-op steering committee that has volunteered literally hundreds of hours getting it up and running, and she is now a board member.)

    I hear you loud and clear about how many cooperatives seem to be for folks with more money than you have. Your concerns are valid. They are also ill-founded. Not all cooperatives follow that model. As one can learn from the Food Coop Initiative website (https://www.fci.coop/), local communities create cooperatives to meet their specific needs; many of them, especially in low-income rural areas, stock basic goods at affordable prices because that was the vision and mission chosen by their founders. Your concerns have nothing to do with the current Whitewater Coop organizational plan. A lifetime membership costs $150, and can be paid in $25 installments over the course of 6 months. There is no annual fee. If you were at the first annual meeting of the Whitewater Grocery Cooperative on Wednesday, 25 October, which roughly 150 members of the Whitewater community attended, you would have heard many of us voicing precisely the concerns you did in your editorial. We want it to be affordable, and we want students involved. We are very much aware of the substantial contribution students make to the local economy, and the local community more broadly. Many of us who work at UW-W also genuinely want to see you get through here healthy and happy, or we wouldn’t bother working at a university in the first place. (For what it’s worth, many of us are still paying off our student loans and, again, share your desire to keep prices as low as possible.) A video recording of the meeting should be available on the city website shortly; I urge interested members of our community to view it and judge for themselves. And maybe think about joining.

    My biggest problem with your editorial was that you framed this predominantly as an “us versus them” scenario, and then extrapolated it into a worst-case one. I disagree with both your premise and your prognostication. Nobody blames students for Sentry closing. Nobody blames students for shopping at Walmart—although, as Mr. Hegstrom convincingly argues in your 12 September editorial “Walmart corporation takes advantage of taxpayers,” a strong case can be made that Walmart is one of the worst imaginable examples of exploitative corporate welfare on the taxpayers’ dime. Demographic and economic shifts in the last few decades have led to small-town grocery stores closing all over the country. The Whitewater Grocery Coop offers us—UW-W students and employees, and Whitewater residents alike—one possible solution. I look forward to you approaching it with a more informed and open mind in the future.

    Best regards,
    Karl Brown
    Assistant Professor of History and Whitewater resident

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  7. Ellen on November 3rd, 2017 3:43 pm

    There is a misconception about the contributions that students make to the City of Whitewater.

    Outside of rental property and alcohol, UW-Whitewater has pulled virtually every dollar out of the captive audience they now refer to as “family.” Entertainment, clothing, sports facilities, office supplies and copy services, equipment rental, and food dollars are captured by the University.

    There is little reason for local businesses to serve Whitewater college students. With their demand for discounts, requests for donations to their fundraisers, and with Wal-Mart and Amazon as their first choices, students simply are not good customers to local business.

    If a business such as a coffee shop were to open and successfully serve students, it almost certain that the University would attempt to draw a coffee shop on campus. With a captive audience in a building that does not pay property taxes, the local coffee shop not only loses business, but it ends up paying taxes that support its already-advantaged, competitor.

    Can you imagine opening a local business, and right about the time you’ve established a reputation and regular revenue stream, the University begins to provide that product or service to the students for much less or just down the mall from classrooms and housing?

    So, to suggest students are an important customer base just doesn’t hold. If the Co-Op offered student discounts and became successful, what prevents the University from trying to capture those dollars? If the Co-op wants to remain viable, it cannot afford to assume that the students are a reliable customer base. They could be wiped out by the University at any time.

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Grocery store should accommodate students