Cameron Pollack / Sun File Photo

Students shop around the aisles of Anabel's Grocery.

February 19, 2019

Anabel’s Grocery Pauses Operations For Spring Semester

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Anabel’s Grocery, a student-run grocery formerly operating out of Anabel Taylor Hall, is currently pausing their operations to re-evaluate their business operations and future.

Anabel’s was created to provide accessible and affordable groceries to Cornell students. After years of planning, the store had its grand opening in May 2017.

The main goal of the break was to address the store’s problems before they negatively affect the function and future of Anabel’s, such as revitalizing the purchasing system.

Organizers also hoped to inquire about federal work study to pay employees — the store faced issues stemming from its reliance on volunteers to operate.

Financial struggles were not the main cause for the pause, according to project coordinator Michael Cornette ’18, who said that revenue “broke even,” aligning with the grocery’s non-profit status.

The grocery is a fiscally sponsored project of the Center for Transformative Action, which is a 501(c)3, nonprofit organization. The CTA is a separate legal entity from the University, although it has been affiliated with Cornell since 1971, according to Anke Wessels, executive director of the center.

The grocery is currently assessing key functions of the store, according to Cornette.

“The Anabel’s team realized that taking the time to reflect and reassess while also running the store six days a week was not feasible, given their busy lives as students,” Wessels told The Sun in an email. “Thus, they decided to put the store operations on pause and use the course I teach to provide structure for the reflection, learning and iteration process.”

While the store is temporarily closed, leaders of the store are enrolled in AEM 3385: Social Entrepreneurship Practicum: Anabel’s Grocery, a course taught by Wessels. According to Cornette, 16 students are currently enrolled in the class.

The course aims to help students address previously unresolved issues. The leaders of the store typically focused on day-to-day operations, preventing them from focusing on the future of the store and its longevity, Cornette said.

According to Wessels, the course is employing a variety of methods to address the store’s function. This includes holding focus groups, assessing the business and governance structure and hosting guest speakers.

“All of this work is informed by the lessons learned over the last [three] semesters of operations, relevant research and the practices of other related social enterprises,” Wessels said.

When the store first opened, initiatives such as the Bread N Butter food pantry and Cornell’s pilot meal swipe food insecurity program, where students could donate bonus meal swipes to those in need, did not exist. Cornette acknowledges the potential influence Anabel’s opening had on these initiatives and hopes to inspire other actions in the future.

“Whether it is cooking a meal for a friend, or completely starting a new initiative like the graduate students did with the mobile food pantry, there is all this opportunity [and] we are just hoping we can play a part in that,” Cornette said.

The current plan is to be “fully operational” by fall 2019, according to Wessels.

Additionally, Wessels said some new initiatives could be implemented by the end of the semester.

Anabel’s Programming is an active club associated with, but not the same as, the grocery store. The store and the club are two separate functions — the programming side of Anabel’s is an SAFC-funded undergraduate organization.

Adeline Lerner ’20, president of Anabel’s Programming, said they are still hosting events. In previous semesters, the club has hosted cooking classes and partnered with organizations such as the Women’s Resource Center for advocacy events.

The purpose of the programming team is to educate students about the food system and address topics such as affordability, sustainability and health, according to Lerner.

Additionally, Lerner hopes to help students make more conscious decisions related to the food they consume and buy. She used a decision to consume less meat as an example of a conscious sustainable choice.

“Every decision that you are making with food, where you are going to buy it, where you are going to eat — those are all things that we don’t think about too closely,” she said.

Cornette hopes that after taking this break the store can become more “efficient” and be a better resource for students. Additionally, he hopes that the store will keep inspiring students.

“Even beyond the store, creating a very vibrant food system on campus,” Cornette said.

“It is not just about the store, it’s about all the initiatives that are happening, like we talked about before, inspiring students to make change is another huge thing we are trying to do.”