Delay of ‘Ram City Market’ is perpetuating food insecurity at VCU

Illustration by Tess Wladar

Nicholas Barahona, Contributing Writer

Ram City Market — have you heard of it? In case you haven’t, let me introduce you to what is set to be the new place for all foods and essentials on campus. Located between Panda Express and Insomnia Cookies on West Grace Street, this market will be open to students and people across the Richmond and VCU community — if it ever opens, that is.

Currently, the space between these two food establishments on West Grace Street is unoccupied, and it has been for some time. From April 2015 to July 2019, a “Walmart on Campus” mini-grocery store occupied this spot. Walmart opened as a pilot program, and after gathering data taken from its four years inside the VCU community, it closed shop.

Those of you who were here when the campus Walmart was open definitely remember how easy it was to get anything you needed without making a hike to the closest grocery store. Even with the occasional long lines, its centralized location and proximity to students made it highly convenient.

Senior business information systems student Carlos Farias said that Walmart was a “crucial spot” that students used to pick up “everyday eating essentials” without traveling too far.

“Being a freshman and in dorms with no kitchen available, it is hard to find a good meal that isn’t the same old options that you settle for at VCU,” Farias said.

Evidently, an on-campus grocery store is needed for VCU students. In August 2021, VCU News reported that Ram City Market would replace the Walmart, with an expected opening date in “late fall or early spring.” There have been no public updates since then.

We cannot understate how rampant food insecurity is among college students, which is why it’s so important for the university to take immediate action to address these concerns. Youngmi Kim, associate professor in the VCU School of Social Work, found that about 35% of VCU students experience food insecurity, with barriers including transportation and limited funds.

Transportation in particular is a huge problem. The Kroger and Whole Foods on Broad Street are the closest grocery stores to VCU. Kroger is approximately a 20 minute walk from VCU; Whole Foods is a 26 minute walk. The GRTC Pulse is an option, though it comes with its own challenges such as carrying all your groceries on the bus. 

If you do not have a car on campus, how are you expected to make the journey to get everything you really need? It is unrealistic to assume many can and will make this trek.

Having been a VCU student for a while now, I’ve grown accustomed to the empty space on West Grace Street. However, Walmart closed almost three years ago. We waited two years, and nothing. Despite Ram City Market being named as the replacement early last semester, the details seem to be shrouded in secrecy, and there is nothing to show for. The date for the grand opening? I couldn’t tell you.

Walking past the unit where the market is set to be, you will find a “Coming Soon” sign and the handle @vcu_dining on Instagram for anyone interested in updates about the market. I can save you the trouble in doing so and tell you what I found after scouring the account — nothing. Not one update has been given since the initial announcement.

Alas, all we have to go off of is the initial article released six months ago by VCU News that stated the market would be opening in late fall or early spring. Well, fall was last semester and spring break is next week — am I missing something here?

While the lack of progress and updates about Ram City Market has been disappointing, I’m inspired by what VCU has done with Ram Pantry and Little Ram Pantries, projects to address food insecurity within the RVA community. These have been great undertakings, but we can’t stop there. Finalizing Ram City Market is the next step to addressing this long-standing problem at our university.

As a student at VCU, I call on the university to supply updates to its community regarding the market. The lack of transparency has led me to believe this is not a priority in VCU’s eyes. The longer it’s not up, the longer the ongoing issue stands with students not having a convenient and accessible place to buy food, leading to greater food insecurity within our community.

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