Officials map out plans for convenience store on Vern following Safeway closure

Media Credit: Alexander Welling | Assistant Photo Editor

Officials said that since Safeway closed, they have been in talks with resident advisers and Residence Hall Association leaders about constructing a convenience store and partnering with local grocers to bring food to the Vern.

Months after the closest grocery store to the Mount Vernon Campus closed, officials are rolling out several new dining options to mitigate food access concerns.

Students expressed worries following Safeway’s closure in May that they would struggle to find close and affordable grocery options on the Vern. Officials said they hope to alleviate students’ concerns by implementing a slew of changes, including expanded Pelham Commons hours and shuttles from the Georgetown Safeway to the Vern.

University spokeswoman Crystal Nosal said officials are holding conversations about building a convenience store where students can buy groceries on the Vern. She said officials are also considering partnerships with several companies to create a grocery delivery service that students can pay for with their GWorld cards.

“Providing access to grocery items remains an important component of GW’s overall dining program and provides students opportunities to prepare meals in their kitchens and community rooms, enhancing their campus living experience and building community with other students,” Nosal said in an email.

Vern residents can access four on-campus dining options, including 7th Hill Pizza and Higher Grounds Cafe. The CVS on MacArthur Boulevard – a six-minute walk from the Vern – is the Vern’s nearest grocery option, but students said the store does not offer as many choices as Safeway.

Pelham Commons is open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. for an $8 all-you-can-eat lunch and from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. for a $10 all-you-can-eat dinner. The dining hall offers bottomless brunch from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays for $12.

Pelham Commons’ Late Night Grill, which offered quick foods like grilled cheese and mozzarella sticks, previously operated from 9 to 11 p.m. on Monday through Thursday. The dining hall will now be open from 8 p.m. to midnight beginning this academic year and offer “grab and go” snacks and a la carte meals during the day, Nosal said.

She added that officials are working with the Georgetown Safeway on Wisconsin Avenue to add their location to the Supermarket Sundays program, which gives students $10 in spending cash if they spend $40 on groceries.

Nosal said free shuttles, which students have to sign up for, began bussing students between the Vern and Georgetown’s Safeway over the weekend.

Student dining representatives will discuss changes to Vern dining options with Residence Hall Association leaders and resident advisers to gather feedback about how to expand “healthy and affordable” cooking and grocery accessibility, she said.

Students have struggled to find affordable and healthy food on campus since the University switched to an open dining plan in 2016. Three years after the shift, student leaders found that 40 percent of students still face food insecurity, and officials have increased the amount of GWorld every year since the dining plan was implemented.

More than 20 Vern residents said they have been eating primarily at dining vendors on the Foggy Bottom Campus for a wider variety of food options and longer open hours than Pelham Commons.

Alex Sousa, a freshman living in West Hall, said he will eat more frequently at Pelham Commons once more food options are added. He said transporting students to Safeway is advantageous but that signing up for the shuttle in advance could create pressure on students if they can’t make the shuttle departure times.

“Both of these changes will definitely make food less scarce on the Vern, and I look forward to these changes being implemented,” Sousa said in an email.

Georgina Jolivette, a freshman living in Somers Hall, said she plans to cook in her room this semester with groceries from Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s but that commuting to purchase groceries is inconvenient.

“It’s really hard unless you like going downtown,” she said. “Today, I don’t really have any food for lunch or dinner unless I go downtown. It sucks.”

Dom Wang, a freshman living in West Hall, said he began shopping for groceries at Whole Foods on days when the University hosts “Supermarket Sunday.” But he said Whole Foods is “rather expensive” compared to the now-closed Safeway – a concern students also expressed when the nearby grocer first closed.

Wang said many Vern residents don’t bother to walk to Pelham Commons in West Hall because the cafeteria is opposite the Vern’s other five residence halls. He added that Pelham Commons doesn’t offer the wide variety of food that he can find at vendors in Foggy Bottom.

“The quality is fine, like the ingredients and everything taste-wise is OK, but still the selection is very limited,” Wang said. “It’s only a couple dishes compared to all the selections down in Foggy Bottom.”

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