Recognizing the important role community grocers play in rural areas, the Center for Rural Affairs has developed a resource called “Saving the Small Town Grocery Store”.In addition to providing local access to food items, community grocery stores serve as a social hub for small towns and the surrounding rural areas.Perhaps it is the nature of food – from purchase to consumption –that brings people together, but small town residents have long realized the importance of having a reliable, quality food retail outlet in their communities.
CRA writes, “Rural grocery stores provide jobs and generate tax revenue. Without a local grocery, the revenue that our food purchases generate goes elsewhere.”Indeed, purchasing grocery items locally is one of the best ways to keep dollars in the local economy.
Among the challenges CRA has found small town grocery stores face, meeting minimum buying requirements, competing against large chains, and access to fresh produce are three of the biggest hurdles.These difficulties are in addition to those that small businesses in rural communities confront on a regular basis.
In recognition of the critical role grocery stores play as community infrastructure, the Federal government has designed programs aimed at assisting rural grocery stores.The Rural Business Enterprise Grant provides assistance to projects located in areas with populations of less than 50,000 people.According to CRA, “a rural grocery store could use this grant to purchase a building, coolers, shelving, or to teach business skills to the people who will own or manage the store.”
To support local farmers and retail food outlets in low-income rural communities, the Community Food Projects Competitive Grant provides one-time grants through the USDA.CRA lists an example eligible project, saying, “A rural grocery co-op could, for example, receive a grant to work with local farmers and distributors to provide retail food outlets for low-income rural communities.”
Additional resources and information is available through CRA’s Saving the Small Town Grocery Store resource.