Students pay for convenience
In a town where apartment prices balloon as soon as you cross the train tracks and parking is a hot commodity, the fact that convenience pays in Tuscaloosa is not lost on supermarkets and restaurants.
Prices at Publix on the Strip have slight variations to matching items found at the Northport location. A selection of products had prices raised anywhere from 5 to 10 cents, with beer prices inflated as much as 30 cents for some of the larger quantity cases.
Not all products at the two Publix stores were found to have price variation, however. Sales and specials matched at both locations and were on the same products at each store. Hannah Saucier, a junior majoring in psychology and dance, said the price difference in certain products is made up for by convenience.
“I normally just shop there anyway so I don’t have to drive,” Saucier said of her choice to shop at Publix on the Strip. “What I would spend in gas I can justify in the price.”
A sample grocery list of 45 items showed the savings you would receive by shopping at the Publix in Northport would be $1.78 in return for your 3.4 mile drive from campus to that location.
Grocery stores are not the only businesses that may raise prices closer to campus. Students often go off campus for food options they believe to be cheaper than locations closer to them. Harlie Waldon, a junior majoring in marketing, said she rarely eats on the Strip and instead chooses locations at Midtown Village or on 15th Street, citing the higher prices found on the Strip.
“It really doesn’t bother me to go a little farther and not feel like I have to spend $20 every time I eat,” Waldon said. “It’s not exactly five-star dining [on the Strip].”
Many of the independent restaurants on the Strip fall into a middle range of pricing compared to similar competitors around the Tuscaloosa area, while chain restaurants typically hold to the same prices found at locations much farther off campus.
Bento Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar has raised prices on all of its lunch and dinner meals by $1 starting this fall. Even with this change, the second-story eatery still offers lower prices on the same meals than its competitor, Hokkaido. For thrifty students looking to get their Hibachi fix, of the three Japanese restaurants in our area, Ichiban on 15th serves up the lowest-priced food.
For those looking for classic, fast American fare, the $7 Messy Fries at Quick Grill are the closest option as opposed to driving the 4.5 miles to Sonic for a cheaper version of chili-cheese fries.
The most notable price differences are between common items purchased at convenience stores and those same items in Bama Dining’s markets.
University operated stores, such as Lakeside Market and Julia’s Market, when compared to Rite Aid near the west edge of campus, have prices that sell up to 25 percent more for the same items.
One original-sized box of Frosted Flakes was priced at $8.99 at Lakeside Market compared to the price of just $4.99 at Rite Aid. Suave body wash jumped from $2.79 to $4.49.
Food in the Ferguson Center holds equally hefty price tags. Bottled soft drinks and teas show the heaviest price increases. Drinks of this nature will typically be 50 percent more than what you would pay off campus at a gas station or convenience store.
However, not all food in on-campus markets and food courts is more expensive. The Burger King located in the Ferguson food court shows consistent pricing with its McFarland location and even decreased the price of the Whopper Jr. meal by about $1. Meanwhile, the food court Chick-fil-A shows a 15 to 30 cent increase per item on its limited menu with a full 60 cent increase on its Grilled Market Salad.
For most students, however, the convenience of on-campus markets and eateries makes up for any increases in price.