Eating our way to local destruction?


Deb Hadachek – Editor
The Belleville Telescope –

I’ve been following news stories out of a nearby county that should keep us all awake at night.

In the past few months, the independent grocery stores in Marysville and Blue Rapids both closed.

That means for a wide swath of Marshall County citizens, the only “hometown” grocer, especially for meat and produce, is Super Walmart.

Some friends from that area commented to me that the owners of both grocery stores said if customers would have patronized them the way they swooped in to scoop up “going out of business” specials off the shelves–they wouldn’t have gone out of business.

“The loyalty to local just wasn’t there,” one grocery owner told the Marysville Advocate.

My Marshall County friends worry about local residents–especially the elderly–who don’t have the ability to drive 20 miles or more for groceries, to park and troop across a hot parking lot, or to hike around a mega-mart searching for bananas.

Republic County is unique among rural counties that we still have two independent grocers–Food Mart and Cuba Cash–as well as businesses in several other communities that try to stock staples for their residents.

The absence of grocery stores in rural towns is a familiar tale throughout Kansas and the rest of the Midwest. In Kansas, nearly one-fifth of rural grocery stores went out of business over the span of four years, according to a 2010 study by the Center for Rural Affairs. Throughout rural America, 2.3 million people live in food deserts—areas 10 miles or more from a supermarket.

K-State research indicates that by December 2016, 45 out of 213 rural grocery stores had closed and not reopened in cities with 2,500 people or less. Fortunately, a number of grocery stores and food access sites have opened in rural areas since then. This June, approximately 190 independently-owned stores were in existence. Many rural grocers are facing challenges as populations decline, low-cost chain outlets come to communities, and stores experience increasing costs with outdated equipment, higher food distribution costs or higher food costs due to low volume.

It goes without saying that local business owners support their communities through taxes and contributions and donations that no chain will ever match.

Lifestyles have changed. We eat out more, and kudos to local restaurants that buy as much of their food as they can at local grocery stores.

Unfortunately, rural residents are good at cussing and discussing their local business owners, because we all know each other so well. But when you take your dollars to Wally World–who’s reaping those profits? What kind of cars do the board of directors drive? What kind of McMansion do they live in? Where do they send their kids to school?

When you rush out of town to buy your groceries under the guise of saving a few cents, who do you benefit, and who do you hurt?

It was a shock to me to learn that a town the size of Marysville no longer has a home-owned grocery store.

If it can happen there, it surely could happen here. And that would be a very bad dream, indeed.