Let’s say you don’t own a car and need to go on a grocery run. In downtown Iowa City, that’s very doable. There’s Bread Garden Market and New Pioneer Co-Op, all of these within a few blocks of each other.
However, the landscape of local grocery is going to inevitably change with Target’s move-in on Washington Street this summer.
The change will be where students buy groceries. Target’s prices are more expensive than Aldi or Walmart. Despite this, University of Iowa students without cars who need to run a fast errand will most likely choose Target over current local choices.
This is because Target is the most affordable of the local options, and students will almost always choose saving money over supporting local businesses. In order to keep their business strong with the UI community, local groceries should consider changing their business model to make products more affordable for students.
Last summer while on my way to City Park Pool with a friend, I stopped into the New Pioneer to buy a bottle of sunscreen. I grabbed a small bottle without really looking at the price. When the cashier scanned my item, the total was almost $13. At the same moment, we both exhaled, “Wow, that’s expensive.”
As I lathered myself by the pool, I had my friend look up the brand, Alba Botanica. One of the first search results was a link to Target’s website. A bottle twice the size of mine was only $6.78.
To be clear, I do not want to support Target; the corporation makes its fortune on fast fashion and overworked employees. I myself am an employee for a local retail store that dedicates its business model to fair trade and local artists. I understand why students should support local business — it supports the ethics of a community.
However, buying local is expensive. Many students simply cannot afford to support local, especially when that $6.78 bottle will be just two blocks away from campus. This is before mentioning Target’s constant student discounts.
This is not to say local businesses should become Target locations, but more so that local grocery needs to change their business model. Student affordability should become more of a priority.
In a city of around 75,000 people, for nine months out of the year, almost two-thirds of the population are UI students. Students are the framework of the Iowa City economy. In order for that local economy to continue to thrive, businesses such as Bread Garden and New Pioneer should examine how their business can better feed students and provide necessities that are affordable.
Bread Garden and New Pioneer did not respond to requests for comment.
Students shouldn’t have to buy groceries from convenience stores or rely on a costly meal plan through the UI. Students in Iowa City should be able to afford to have healthy eating lifestyles, and many already see Target as their best option.
Several students I know have already decided that Target will be their shop of choice. Whether for groceries, school supplies, or even retail, students are already beginning to choose what is cheap over what is local.
Now with the season of sunscreen only months away, Target’s move-in will be a test. Local businesses will decide whether to choose to become more affordable or keep their current prices.
If not, I fear they risk being burned by corporation prices.
Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.