The importance of a rural grocery store for community and economic development

A grocery store in a rural community is key piece to community and economic development.

One of the issues identified at the recent Connecting Entrepreneurial Communities conference in McCook, Nebraska concerned preservation of the rural grocery store and access to healthy food. As operators of smaller grocery stores reach retirement age, or the because of the establishment of a supercenter within fifty miles, savvy communities are communities are considering strategies for the continuance or the establishment of their own local grocery stores. Todd Chessmore, superintendent of the Cody-Kilgore Unified School District said that in his community indicated three things were needed for survival: a good school, a local bank and a grocery.

Local Michigan business owners in the Thumb area who are actively seeking highly skilled workers said that the presence of a grocery store and shopping can be an issue in attraction, particularly for families that are relocating. On average a shopper will travel 8.03 miles on average to a grocery store. In many places in Michigan, shoppers are traveling considerably more to shop at a grocery store. We have often heard the term “food desert” in relation to urban areas, but many food deserts exist in rural areas also. Trouble comes when convenient grocery shopping forces a shopper to travel in opposite directions. People with limited time and busy lives are likely to choose a community with convenient shopping over one that does not have these facilities.

Some of the strategies for a local community that are interested in a vibrant community, are exploring various business models to develop or retain their local grocery store. In the case of Cody, Nebraska, the grocery operates on school property and is staffed by students, with a curriculum attached and school credits given. The school has created a real-world experience and has provided a needed community service.

Since every community has different assets and needs, attracting and retaining a local grocery will be different for each community. Therefore, each community should carefully assess and plan how to keep or establish their local grocery. Extension Educators at Michigan State University Extension and Innovation Counselors at the Michigan State University Product Center assist food business operators in the establishment of food related businesses. For further information and assistance with employee communications, please contact your local Michigan State University Extension office. 

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