The rural grocery store

Not long after I graduated from high school, the only grocery store in my small town closed its doors for good. Unfortunately, this happens far too often all over the country. Why?

There are many reasons but competition from discount stores, very slim margins, and a more mobile workforce are among them. As a result, the community loses out on the economic benefits and may have to drive 20, 30 miles or more for access to healthy food.

Erica Blair is a program manager for the Rural Grocery Initiative at Kansas State University. She says having a long-term plan is essential.

"One of the most important things that a grocer can do or that a community can do is work on a business transition plan or create an exit strategy. So that is a plan to keep the grocery store operating and in business even after the grocer retires or decides to move on for whatever reason," says Blair. "That’s insuring there is someone, or maybe there’s a group of people who will take over the store."

Blair says some rural communities have come up with innovative ownership models when a business transition takes place. They include public-private partnerships, cooperatives, and even school-run grocery stores.

"It’s owned and operated by the school district,"she says. "So, students are involved in managing the store and creating business plans. They’re gaining all kinds of practical experience and building entrepreneurship skills. In this case, the grocery store fulfills an educational need and it also meets the needs of the communities."

She says to look at the town’s needs and wants, and have community buy-in no matter which model is chosen.