A grocery store can hold a rural community together

By Al Cross


Rural grocery stores are one key to helping communities remain vibrant. Brian Depew and Steph Larsen of the Center for Rural Affairs write that rural groceries not only are a great convenience, they bring jobs and tax revenues to towns, and attract shoppers to other businesses. “When you have to leave town to buy groceries, it’s easier to pick up hardware, fill prescriptions and buy clothes at the same time,” Depew and Larsen note.

Communities without groceries have less access to healthy fruits and vegetables, and their residents, especially the elderly, have to go longer between trips. The stores are also centers of social engagement, as customers interact and share news. “Similar to a school, post office, restaurant and churches, a grocery store makes a community a more attractive place to live,” the writers note.

But how does a rural community ensure the success of its grocery, or get one back after losing it? Private enterprise and/or community cooperation. A survey among Stapleton, Neb., residents showed 95 percent of residents wanted a local store, so two local investors stepped up to finance one. More than 300 Walsh, Colo., residents decided that their 30-minute drive to a grocery was too far, so they started a food co-op, a model the reporters say works because the grocery is responsive to its customer-owners. High school students in Arthur, Neb., reopened a local store as part of an extracurricular program. The authors cite the store’s connection to youth as a reason for its 10 years of success. (Read more)

Reprinted with permission from The Rural Blog.  Al Cross, former Courier-Journal political writer, is director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and The Rural Blog. 

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