Ask a Bowdoin student about the prices at the C-Store, and the response is almost uniformly a comment on the high costs, accompanied by a resigned shake of the head. The C-Store, based on these responses, has become decidedly more expensive.
But not expensive enough to stop students from shopping there. According to Director of Dining Service Mary Kennedy, there has been a surge in business this semester at the C-Store with around 500 new sales a week compared to last year.
Bowdoin is consuming, and consuming mightily, even in spite of the perceived high costs.
The reason for this lies in the store's very name; it is, as Husam Abdalla '14 emphasized, "the Convenience Store."
As he walked out of the C-Store with a liter of Polar seltzer, John Bruno '13 reflected that "it would be cheaper to go to Hannaford, but considering how infrequently I use the C-Store, I don't really notice the prices, and the C-Store is on campus."
Kennedy emphatically dismissed conspiricy theories that the C-Store marks up prices in order to increase profits.
The C-Store is simply not a supermarket, and it operates on a different business model.
If and when the C-Store posts higher prices than, say, Hannaford's, it reflects the fact that the C-Store pays more per unit than a standard commercial grocery store does.
"I can't even venture to say how much more a large super market spends to stock their store than we do," said Kennedy. "They can sell products at close to their wholesale value to get you in the door; we don't have that capacity."
Grocery chains like Hannaford, Shaw's, and even 7/11 buy for a much larger consumer base, and they purchase products in greater bulk than the C-Store—which only serves the College community.
So to remain in the black, the C-Store has to charge more for its goods.
According to Kennedy, the C-Store prices reflect a standard margin added to the wholesale price, which is already prescribed by the merchant.
"The main issue for me is that the prices aren't always clearly marked, so I don't know until they've already rung me up that my chips and salsa are $9," said Alexi Robbins '14
Julie McCullough '14, however, reflected that she doesn't think about prices at the C-Store as she would at a supermarket because she "mostly spends Polar Points at the C-Store."
Dylan Kane '12 expressed a similar sentiment:
"I'm paying for the convenience, and to be able to use my OneCard to pay. I'm not really paying out of my pocket, so it's not the same calculus I would go through at a store where I'm paying cash."
If the granola bars, bottles of water, soda and Gatorade are indeed over-priced, then they are only marginally so in the minds of many students.
Moreover, when pressed, many said that the items they buy are not generally the exorbitantly priced ones.
The biggest perceived culprits of price inflation are the organic and specialty products, which are generally pricey everywhere, whether they are bought in the C-Store or at Hannaford.
"They sell my favorite cereal, Puffins, there, but I never buy it because it's really expensive. I don't buy food at the C-Store because I think it's overpriced, but I definitely buy a drink about every other day," said Noelle Schoettle '13, encapsulating the predominant student view.
"I bought an Odwalla, which I think is expensive, but not very much more than it would be anywhere else, and not more than I'm willing to spend," said Kane.
The C-Store seems to be what the market—no matter how disgruntled—will bear.