Saving the Small Town Grocery Store

A small grocery store anchors one end of Main Street in the town the Center for Rural Affairs calls home.

If you live in a rural community, you understand that our grocery store is arguably one of the most important businesses in town. Our store means more than just ready access to healthy food. Rural grocery stores provide jobs and generate tax revenue. Without a local grocery, the revenue that our food purchases generate goes elsewhere.

Having a grocery store also helps attract new residents to a town. Similar to a school, a post office, restaurants and churches, a grocery store makes a community a more attractive place to live. Grocery stores can also be social places where you run into neighbors in the produce aisle, introduce yourself to someone new in town, or catch up on local happenings with the cashier.

Not all small towns are as lucky as we are. The lack of a grocery store means residents have less access to healthy fresh fruits and vegetables, and the elderly and others without reliable transportation will tend to buy their food at convenience stores with more limited selections or go for longer periods of time between visits to the store.

These are just some of the reasons why the local grocery store is a crucial part of any viable community.

On this page, you'll find information, resources and ideas about the preservation of the rural grocery store.

For more information, contact: Steph Larsen, StephL@cfra.org or Brian Depew, briand@cfra.org or 402.687.2103 x 1015.

Newsletter Series: Saving the Small Town Grocery Store

Part I: Feeding More than Stomachs: Strategies for Sustaining the Small Town Grocery Store
The best creative solutions for saving the small town grocery store begin within the community and help residents identify a plan that works for their particular locale. This piece explains the ways several rural communities are keeping the grocery store open in their town. [More...]

Part II: The Challenges
Small town grocery stores face many of the same hurdles that any small business might in a rural community. But, they also face several that are unique to the grocery industry, including: meeting minimum buying requirements; competing with big chains; access to fresh produce; and high energy costs. This piece explores those challenges and offers solutions for meeting them. [More...]

Part III: Federal Resources Can Assist Rural Grocery Stores
This piece highlights some of the federal programs that can be used to support, expand, and update rural grocery stores to help them compete in today’s marketplace, including Rural Business Enterprise grants, Community Food Projects and assistance through the Rural Energy for America Program, among others. [More...]

Other Center Articles:

8 Steps to Help Small Town Grocery Stores
Everyone needs to eat. Having a grocery store is more than just a place to buy food. It’s a necessity for any vibrant town. Is your town’s grocery store struggling? Or have you lost your grocery store? Here are some simple first steps to get a handle on that situation. (6/2012)

Rural Grocery Stores: Importance and Challenges (Opens pdf)
This brief examines trends for rural grocery stores, reasons rural communities are losing grocery stores, and the personal and community implications when a community lacks a grocery store. It summarizes the issues and challenges facing rural grocery stores. 10/2010

Rural Grocery Stores: Ownership Models that Work for Rural Communities (Opens pdf)
This brief looks at common ownership models used by individuals and rural communities for starting or keeping a local store. It provides examples of such models and analyzes how they address challenges facing rural grocery stores. 10/2010

The Local Grocery Store as Critical Infrastructure
When exploring what infrastructure is critical to keeping a rural community vibrant, the Center for Rural Affairs staff kept coming up with two pieces: a school and a local grocery store. There are many more, to be sure, that contribute to a town's viability but the local grocery store is certainly among the first to mind. This piece explores that need. [More...]

America's Youngest Grocer: Nick Graham
As the Center of Rural Affairs' Brian Depew wrote of the then 17-year-old Nick Graham, who brought and took over Truman, Minnesota’s only grocery store when it closed: "Rural main streets across America are struggling to survive, and the shuttering of a grocery store, drug store or hardware store is all too common. As Nick is demonstrating though, innovation, new energy, and the commitment of a new generation can help turn around the fate of a small town." [More...]
 

Resources:

News:

Walsh Residents in the Fresh-Food Grocery Business, Colorado Health Foundation
Many Walsh, Colorado, residents are more than just satisfied customers of the Walsh Community Grocery Store. They also own the place.

Store Closing? No Problem in Cambridge Daily Yonder 
When a regional chain retailer decided to close its store in Cambridge, Nebraska, the town had an answer. Cambridge would open its own.

Rural town’s heartbeat, its grocery store, has a new pulse, Kansas City Star
Kansas community unites to reopen its shuttered Main Street cornerstone.

Your Small Town Grocery Store is a Rural Tourism Attraction
If you ask an urbanite why they go to the grocery store, they might look at you strangely, then answer, “To buy food, of course!”  In small towns a grocery store is much more. It’s a place to meet friends, to get local news, an economic engine for a rural community and for many areas, it’s a rural tourism attraction. [more...]

Adin Supply is a Rural Area Tourism Destination
I’ve written before about how valuable your country grocery store can be to your rural area tourism industry. I rediscovered a real gem of an example the other day in Adin, California. [more...]

For Milk, Bread and Heroes: Kansas Groceries, The Daily Yonder
Most Kansas "cities" have fewer than 1500 residents, all wanting a local market when they want it. Who's minding the store and how can they hang on? [More...]

Small Town's Citizens Build Their Own Grocery Store, NPR
The Dakotas have been steadily losing population for three decades. Small towns are drying up, and the loss of something so small but vital as a grocery store can often lead to another ghost town littering the Great Plains. [More...]

Colorado Town Saves Grocery Store, America's Heartland

The Small-Town Grocery Store: an Economic Necessity, Associated Content
Visitors from large cities often laugh at residents of tiny rural towns. They tease them about how they can live without major shopping malls, famous gourmet coffee shops, and well-known department stores. All of these are nice, but they are more luxury than necessity. What tends to hurt the economy of a small rural town is the lack of a grocery store. [More...]

Small Town Railies to Save Grocery Store, Ag Journal
Marilyn McCaffrey has seen first-hand what a small town will do to keep its grocery store open. In the Eastern Colorado community where she grew up, she watched as leaders rallied to keep the grocery store she manages in business. "You can do it," she says. "But it takes a lot of time and money and effort from a lot of people." [More...]

Small-Town Grocery Makes Big Impact in Iowa Town, Tri County Tribune
Town and Country Market, a small grocery store in Slater owned by Ames resident Larry Larson, sometimes records more than 800 sales a day. [More...]

Nebraska Residents Band Together to Build a Grocery Store, Omaha World-Herald
The town of Stapleton was tired of the 76 round-trip trek for groceries, so the residents decided to do something about it. In less than a year, they created a local grocery store. [More...]

Moville, Iowa Raises Money for Grocery Store, Omaha World-Herald
Nancy Wiese's last-minute Thanksgiving run was much easier this year than last. On Wednesday, when she needed corn syrup for her sweet potatoes and pickled herring for the 12-person family celebration she was hosting, she made a quick trip to Chet's Foods, also known as the Moville Market. Last year, such a grocery run would have required a 35-mile round-trip expedition to Sioux City. [More...]

Petersburg, Nebraska Residents Rally to Save Grocery Store, Grand Island Independent
Larry Temme has poured himself into the Rae Valley Market in Petersburg since buying the tiny grocery store 17 months ago. But now, he’s about to reach his breaking point. Without any drastic changes, he doesn’t see the store making it to the end of the year. [More...]

Colorado Town Finds Way to Carry Local Groceries, Denver Post
When the residents of a tiny town band together to rescue the only grocery store from foreclosure, buying a jar of peanut butter anywhere else becomes an act of treason. [More...]

Summit Aims to Help Kansas' Rural Grocery Stores Survive, Topeka Capital-Journal