Emma Carlson, Contributing Writer
The building that formerly housed the campus Walmart will be the site of a new VCU grocery store, with hopes of opening in late fall or early spring, according to VCU Business Services spokesperson Anna Obermiller.
The grocery store will be called Ram City Market, as was voted on in a student survey.
“When Walmart closed, it created a void for students’ grocery needs,” Obermiller stated in an email. “We wanted to fill that void and create a convenient grocery store on campus where students can pick up essentials as well as fresh produce, to-go meals and more.”
Ram City Market plans to have allergen-friendly options, however Obermiller could not list all the specific allergies that will be accomodated. Gluten-free and vegan options from food producer Good Uncle will be available. Students can use swipes, dining dollars and cash or credit to purchase groceries.
The building, located on 912 W. Grace St., previously housed a mini Walmart store on the first floor of the 4,100 square-foot space. Located next to Panda Express, students across campus pass by the upcoming grocery store’s location every day.
Freshman art major Echo Hoboy lives on campus in Johnson Hall. Although describing Johnson as having “good bones,” Hoboy expressed frustration in the lack of a community kitchen or even a microwave, unless brought by the residents.
Hoboy has VCU Dine’s new premium dining plan, which allows unlimited entry swipes into Market 810 and Avo Kitchen and 12 swipe exchanges every 24 hours, according to VCU Dine. They expressed excitement for Ram City Market, especially for its convenient location.
“I would definitely buy produce there,” Hoboy said. “You have to walk so far to get to Kroger, even to the bus stop.”
Richmond’s rapid transportation line, the GRTC Pulse, runs through Broad Street, with stops near Whole Foods, Aldi and Lidl, according to Greater Richmond Transit Company Pulse routes. There are no accessible Pulse stops to the Lombardy Kroger, so students would have to walk or take alternate bus routes. GRTC route 50 runs every 30 minutes with stops in front of residence hall Broad and Belvidere and across from the Lombardy Kroger parking lot.
Richmond City has more accessible convenience stores than grocery stores, from numerous 7/11 locations on or around campus, to local options such as Cary St. Mini Mart and Lombardy Market.
Factors such as difficult access to grocery stores and an overabundant number of convenience stores compared to a small number of distant grocery stores, along with high poverty rates, contribute to food insecurity across the Richmond area, creating a “food desert.”
Richmond City is considered a food desert by the United States Department of Agriculture. The term refers to inequalities in accessible, affordable food options that can contribute to differences in diet and health, especially in low-income and non-white areas, according to John Jones, an urban food planning professor at VCU.
“In urban areas, which are the focus of my work, food is often found in abundance everywhere,” Jones stated in an email. “The problem is that most of the available food is often nutritionally poor and/or high in some combination of sugar, fat and salt.”
Amy Truong is a business major at VCU. Although now a junior and no longer on a dining plan, she still expressed interest in Ram City Market.
“It will be so close,” Truong said. “During freshman and sophomore year, having places to walk to for groceries that’s not thirty minutes away would have been pretty nice.”
Truong lives off campus now and uses her car when grocery shopping. She prefers Aldi to other stores for its lower prices. Truong also saw value in the new grocery store being affiliated with VCU, as convenience stores on or near campus made her feel unsafe at times.
“Gas stations are overpriced, and especially being a girl, they can be dangerous,” Truong said. “I feel like an actual VCU building will make people feel safer.”