In the midst of a vibrant campus debate on how best to tackle food insecurity, President Elizabeth Garrett gave her approval of the plan to open a student-run grocery store in Anabel Taylor Hall on Nov. 23, clearing the final administrative hurdle blocking the store’s proponents from turning their plan into reality.
The resolution to open Anabel’s Grocery was originally approved by the Student Assembly last April as a way to address food insecurity on campus. After President Emeritus David Skorton declined to offer his judgement on the plan in his last months at Cornell, the S.A. debated the issue again this year, and passed a second resolution in favor of the proposal on Nov. 5. It received the stamp of approval from the Cornell Community Coordinating Committee a couple of weeks later, and needed only Garrett’s okay to proceed.
Following Garrett’s announcement, the store’s proponents now only need to finalize certain business agreements and finish preparing the space in order to open the store next semester.
The store will be accessible to the public, but will offer subsidies to help financially needy students better afford groceries. Its initial start-up costs will be funded by a $320,000 allocation from the Students Helping Students Grant, a $1.5 million endowment typically reserved to help students cover emergency expenses. This has drawn criticism from some community members who say that a start-up business is too risky an enterprise to spend Students Helping Students money on.
In her letter of approval, Garrett said that Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and academic services, is working with the Center for Transformative Action, a nonprofit which currently occupies space in Anabel Taylor Hall, to update their Facility Use Agreement to be compatible with the plans for Anabel’s Grocery — a process she expects to be completed by mid-December. Once this agreement is reached, she said she supports the proposal.
The project has been shepherded largely by Emma Johnston ’16, S.A. executive vice president, and Matthew Stefanko ’16, S.A. vice president for finance. Both have defended the research done to support the proposal, saying that food insecurity on campus and general demand for a convenient grocery option make it a sound business plan.
“After so many months of preparation, our team could not be more excited to continue our work towards opening the store next semester,” Johnston said.
While Johnston acknowledged that plans cannot fully launch until Lombardi finishes the process of finalizing the store’s rent agreement, she said the Anabel’s Grocery team is “delighted” to continue working to develop relationships with suppliers, planning to renovate the space and “engaging the Cornell community” in their plans.
“We hope that our project will be able to show that when students put in their due diligence, they are more than capable of taking on ambitious projects despite their short time here,” Johnston said.