The high cost of convenience

There have been calls lately, and perhaps they are justified, to reimburse students with the money purportedly saved by Montgoris Dining Hall “going trayless.”

I, however, have a simpler proposal for putting to good use the gigantic surplus this plan is sure to produce: stop gouging St. John’s students for the convenience of buying on-campus.

Simply put, the tuition, housing and meal plan costs that we pay entitle us to as much.

If you’re a resident student at the University, you’ve probably noticed that things cost a little more in the C-Store than most off campus grocery and convenience stores.

Here are the facts: A 20 ounce bottle of Vitamin Water goes for $1.79 at the 7-11 on Union Turnpike, about a half mile from gate six, while the same product can be had for $2.29 at the C-Store. The same prices apply to 32 ounce PowerAdes.

It gets worse if you’re talking dairy: A pint of Haagen Dazs ice cream is $3.99 at the Rite Aid on the corner of Union and Parsons, compared to $4.59 at the C-Store, and a half gallon of 1% milk, $1.79 at the 7-11, sees a price bump of 80 cents, up to $2.59 on campus.

Buy them all on one short trip off campus and you’re looking at a savings of $2.30 (and getting a little exercise to work off the Haagen Dazs).

Hungry Johnny? Money hungry, maybe.
To be fair, Executive Director of Auxiliary Service Ken Waldhof has some reasonable explanations for the price differences.

“Chartwells is not buying on the same volume level as a 7-11 or a deli,” he explained, “so it’s difficult to compete with their prices.” He also explained that the unionized workforce of Chartwells makes it even more difficult for them to compete with lower-priced alternatives.

These points form a valid argument from an economic viewpoint, especially from Chartwells, an independent company that has no particular duty to the student body of St. John’s.

The University, though, should do more. St. John’s has the power to pressure Chartwells and remind them that it is a University that sides with its students before its outside contractors.

It has the power, if necessary, to subsidize the costs of some products that are especially expensive, such as milk.
We also have to realize that some of the blame falls on us. As Waldhof put it, “If things aren’t competitively priced, students won’t be buying them.”

The truth, though, is that many students are willing to pay extra for the convenience. If you take that five minute walk to 7-11 a little more often, Chartwells will eventually have to lower prices; it’s simple supply and demand.
Ultimately, Waldhof maintained that prices are on par with most other colleges in the area.

That may be true, but it doesn’t make it right, and as he said himself, “If the students are buying it, that’s not necessarily saying it’s ok.”

In the end, Waldhof made a fair and gracious proposal: If students feel that a specific item is overpriced (milk, for instance), let him know.

“I don’t mind going back to Chartwells and saying ‘tell me why this product costs what it does,'” he said. “I don’t want students to think we’re stuck with it.”

Yes, in fairness, St. John’s should give its students the ability to buy a carton of milk on campus for a reasonable price, but in reality, it’s up to us as students, and as consumers, to make it happen.

So don’t buy overpriced items at the C-Store, and let them know about it. And if it really bothers you that much, just bring your own tray.