Editorial Notebooks

Free market needed at RPI

I was excited when I heard that a Moe’s was opening up next to campus. I truly was. I feel that I’m not alone in this excitement, but my reasons may be different than everybody else’s. I hope I’m not alone.

I wasn’t excited about the prospect of Mexican food being offered at the edge of campus at all hours. I love the occasional burrito or quesadilla, but they tend to be in large portions and they tend to not keep very well, so it’s not very cost effective now that I’m off a meal plan. There’s also the health concern of Americanized processed food, but that’s another story. (And no, don’t get me started on how it’s “fresh.”)

I wasn’t excited that something more purposeful than Java++ was opening at that location. I knew that Java++ wasn’t doing well, but on days when I was walking back to Polytech Apartments at a reasonable hour, I didn’t mind stopping in there for a quick coffee or flavorful snack.

However, I was excited because I thought that the walls of a food monopoly were being torn down, allowing fair competition to come in right next to campus. Ha. That was a silly thought.

When I walked into Moe’s after it opened, I noticed that the employees looked a little too … familiar. But there wasn’t anything I could definitively pin down at the time. Then, when I got my receipt, I knew I had been duped. I sure was about to enjoy my burrito, courtesy of Rensselaer Hospitality Services. You know it.

Now, I don’t want to bash the school completely when it comes to food and external sources. We have the Farmers’ Market, which brings in external vendors, which is good. Sushi is available in Father’s Marketplace and at other food locations on campus. That’s all well and good, and I think we need to see more of that.

But these improvements can’t be limited to the Farmers’ Market, and they can’t be limited to select foods requiring preparation outside of the school’s normal production.

I thus outright propose a challenge to this school. I know it’s not a trivial challenge, and I know it’s more involved than the school flipping a magical switch. But the challenge is posed nonetheless.

I challenge this school to permit another restaurant to be built right next to campus that runs outside of Sodexo and Rensselaer Hospitality Services.

Independent competition would ideally force exactly what free market theory predicts that it should: It would force food options to compete on quality of food at prices. It wouldn’t be just one group setting the standard. It would give the students a fair chance to speak, instead of the one-dimensional food selection speaking for them.

Now, a few notes. Yes, I know Pizza Bella (come on, you know that’s what it’s called) doesn’t suffer from having “Rensselaer Hospitality Services” on the receipt. But the school owns the land, and the pizza store has been there for years. I want to see more than that.

I know there is a Subway opening on the ground floor of City Suites, and I really do hope it doesn’t suffer from the same victimizing “Rensselaer Hospitality Services.” But even if it doesn’t, it’s hidden down the hill on the corner of campus. The only reason students head downhill to go to Blitman is that it’s (arguably) the best quality food on campus when they’ve already committed (their parent’s) money to a meal plan. I want to see more than that.

Do you want to know what I really want to see? A Dunkin’ Donuts or a Starbucks opening right next to the campus, and not in downtown, but smack dab on the hill close to the dorms. Or a Panera Bread or a McDonald’s. Or a local business. But not run by RPI or Sodexo, and not even with the land owned by RPI. An independent store setting its own prices (no collusion, boys and girls) competing fairly with RPI.

You’ve gotten your challenge, RPI.