Anabel’s Grocery Finally Opens, But Don’t Expect to Find the Truth There

Financials, impact on financial aid, and alternatives -- never discussed, never divulged

At long last, Anabel’s Grocery Store is opening, and Sunday, May 7 is the fateful day.

It only took a measly two years to set up a make-shift grocery store in the basement of Anabel Taylor Hall, but the campus is now eagerly awaiting for the singular solution to student food insecurity to finally become available.

The grocery store is a familiar topic to The Cornell Review. Two years ago, when the Student Assembly (SA) approved the student-run grocery store twice – once in April 2015 and then again in November 2015 after former President David Skorton rejected the first proposal over the summer – The Review led the fight against it.

Out of the many reasons for opposing the store, the source of its initial funding became the most contentious. To the tune $320,000, Anabel’s plundered the Students Helping Students emergency financial aid fund, and ever since the store’s financials have never been released. The Review also questioned plans to spend significant amounts of the financial aid money on capital expenditures, such as refrigerators, when it was later announced the store’s subsidy would only amount to 10% discounts for qualifying students. There was also the question of whether this subsidy would potentially reduce the amount of student’s financial aid received from the university, as is the effect of most external institutional forms of aid.

Even more concerning has been the lack of transparency with regards to the conduct and financial results of the store’s construction, acquisition of fixtures, and operations. This worry was amplified when the SA, soon after initially approving the store, earnestly debated whether they should buy themselves iPads to conduct their exalted work.

The Review also doubted the grocery-store expertise of the individuals behind the project (in fact, there was none) and predicted extreme delays and pushbacks in the opening of the store. Despite the boldness of the store’s proponents and their many reassurances of a hasty opening, in a Cornell Sun article from February 2016 discussing one of three or four major opening date pushbacks the store’s founders admitted the construction process was “more bureaucratic than they had originally imagined.”

Alas, 25 months since the initial approval the store is now slated to open.

During the spring and fall 2015 SA and campus-wide debates, Anabel’s was billed as the only solution to combat food insecurity at Cornell, despite numerous examples to the contrary at NYU and UCLA, and other proposed solutions, such as food vouchers or reimbursements, which never saw the light of day at the SA. All focus was placed on the grocery store, which was enveloped in more grandiosity and was sure to produce more student executive board positions than the alternatives.

Anabel’s was originally the brainchild of then-students and SA representatives Matthew Stefanko ’16 and Emma Johnston ’16. They and other proponents of the store quickly pre-recruited a student executive board and enlisted the heavy-handed support of the business fraternity Delta Sigma Pi and other campus groups to help push the vote through on the SA.

Sources, including some sitting on the SA at the time, told The Review that acceptance into certain business fraternities and secret societies was used to win votes, though there is no corroborating proof of the existence of any quid pro quo.

May 7 will not mark the end of the Anabel’s Grocery saga, only its first chapter. With so much that was so wrong about the first two years of Anabel’s existence, one can only surmise there will be aplenty more to come in the years ahead.

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