photo: State Library of New South Wales via Flickr

First (cue the teletype sound effects), a short announcement – Aunt Toby will be ‘outta town’ for the next couple of weeks. I am not ‘going away’ or ‘going on hiatal hernia’ or any of that. I’m just not going to be someplace where I can get to this series of tubes to do a post for y’all for Food Sunday. So, you’ve been warned. Just eat all your green veggies while I’m gone and you’ll still be alive when I get back.

That said, here is today’s food-related item, which combines food, small business, local economies and probably a bit of chili pepper and cilantro as well:

What happens to communities when core businesses close down? And by core businesses, I’m talking about the stuff that people don’t think about but that they go to all the time.

Like a grocery store.

The folks in Kent City, Michigan have now found out. Last fall, their one grocery store, a 16,000 square foot small regional chain store, closed. Another large regional chain had built a megastore in a town about ten miles away and the local store took a huge hit.
“Last winter was hard on the Kent City grocer as well, Houseman(the manager) said, as they saw another big drop in receipts, leaving them with no choice but to close. “We have tried hard to get another Spartan dealer to take over the store but so far we have no luck,” he said. “It will take at least $300,000 to stock a new store and $400,000 to do it properly and banks aren’t lending money right now.” Kent City Grocery Plans to close

OK, sadness prevails. Thirty people lost their jobs. People sighed; they could not just run down to the store for bread, milk, eggs and beer. That’s the American way. You can’t compete, you get eaten by the big new store in Cedar Falls down the road. The other local business owners cluck their tongues and turn away.

Tough luck.

Except, it’s NOT. “Scott Weston figured there would be a dip in business at his hardware store after the only grocery store in this town of 1,100 people closed in December.He wasn’t expecting the bottom to fall out, though. “It’s cut my business in half,” says Weston, 48, who has owned Master Supply & Hardware for eight years.
Since Kent City Marketplace closed, he says, residents and nearby farmers drive to Sparta, Cedar Springs or Grand Rapids to buy food — and often do their other shopping at big stores in those communities.
At Grice’s Pharmacy, across Muskegon Street from Weston’s place, it’s the same story. The lack of a grocery store “has been very detrimental” to its business, says pharmacist Melissa Hills, 36. “I think everybody in town is affected.” Small Towns Hurt When Grocery Stores Close

The DH and I once took a trip to Scotland where we stayed at a little hostel near a village named Spittalfields where the entire business community consisted of a small grocery store which had a long string of signs out front:

Mail Pickup, Shoe Repair, Tailoring and Alterations, Dry Cleaning

This little place had changed over the years into a bedroom community where people dutifully lined up to take the train to Edinburgh and other nearby cities for their jobs. And they’d come home, do their bit of shopping, etc. on the way home. Except that the railway had eliminated their stop. So people could no longer live there and go to work except by car, so they’d do their shopping etc. on their way home and all the local businesses died, except for this couple for insisted on hanging on and offering more and more services so that someone…anyone…was doing it. So, their little village still had something and they got a lot of local support actually. I read another story about a little town in England where the only store was going to close because the elderly lady wanted to retire. And all the moms in the village realized that if that store closed, there would be no place to take the kids to go get a coloring book or a little sack of hard candy or a book or a little game. So, they all got together and applied for a grant to buy the business, stock it, staff it and keep it going. As I recall, they eventually eliminated the candy bit and got bigger into books and put in a coffee shop but they realized what an important part of the community the store had been and that if they let the business die, then a bit of the village would die too.

As the people in Kent City, Michigan have now found out. But it doesn’t have to be that way. From the same USAToday article: “Some towns find novel ways to keep their stores open. Nine months after the only grocery in Walsh, Colo., closed, the community, population 600, decided to sell $50 shares and reopen it as a cooperative. “It has been win-win for the whole dadgum town,” says Rick Mills, a former chairman of the grocery store’s board.
The store brings in about $1.4 million in annual sales, has a full- and part-time staff of 14 and even makes deliveries. Other towns, he says, “can pick themselves up by their bootstraps, or they can go down the tubes.”
The 650 people in Leeton, Mo., had been without a grocery for a decade when town leaders opened the Bulldog Express in 2009 as a project by high school business classes. It is staffed by students and is doing so well it will add a coffee shop and deli, says teacher Marijayne Manley.”

Something I think we all need to remember is that yes, many times it is more expensive to give your trade (as the Brits say) to a locally owned business. But supporting local business means that many times, you are all connected together. The DH and I are involved in our local version of BALLE, which is an organization which is focused on building and supporting local economies, from buying local to investing local to lending local. BALLE (the link does not seem to work right now but trust me that this is legit). They have a network of local organizations all over the country and you can find yours on the site. If you don’t have one, start one.

Remember: You don’t want to be the one to start handing out the bumper stickers that read, “Will the last person out, please turn out the lights.”

TobyWollin

TobyWollin

Snarky housewife from Upstate New York. Into gardening, fiber arts, smallholder farming.

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