The impending closure of the Uni-Mart convenience store at 40th and Locust streets to make way for a new restaurant is a clear sign that student needs are not being adequately considered in Penn's retail strategy. Despite overwhelming public support for the establishment, the University recently turned down a request from the store's operators for an extension on its lease. Instead, real estate officials intend to bring a new eatery to the location. But the Sundance Cinemas complex down the street will feature a new restaurant, and the Dental School's Schattner Center across the street will include a coffee shop. What the block lacks -- and what students want -- is a place to buy gum, soda and late-night snacks. We can speculate on the timing of this move, publicized only weeks before the opening of the FreshGrocer.com supermarket at 40th and Walnut streets. But we hope administrators recognize the qualitative differences between a grocery store and a convenience store. The former caters to large, planned purchases; the latter is a place for those inexpensive and unexpected cravings. And Uni-Mart -- or Friendly's Express, as it is officially known -- certainly did a good job filling that role. Students want both options, and the University should not deny them one in order to free its new enterprise from local competition. In a larger sense, we cannot figure out what the University's retail strategy is, on 40th Street or elsewhere. This campus has two high-end stationery stores but no place to buy CDs, several new upscale restaurants but no Home of the Whopper. There are two vacancies on the 3900 block of Walnut Street and others five blocks to the east, and creating another at 40th and Locust seems to be in nobody's interests. Penn officials have to give the student body some indication that they intend for campus retail to serve a student population concerned with cost and convenience. Rethinking the idea of putting yet another overpriced restaurant in the soon-to-be-vacated Uni-Mart location and working to replace it with another convenience store would be a good start.Comments powered by Disqus
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