Monday, December 05, 2011

When rural grocery stores close, communities and local businesses suffer, expert tells Senate

When locally-owned rural grocery stores close, communities they served have a hard time replenishing food supplies when roads close or are too dangerous to travel in winter months because "big-box" groceries are usually more than 20 miles away, Kansas State University Research and Extension reports in the Topeka Capital-Journal. The director of K-State's Center for Engagement and Community Development, David Procter, testified before the U.S. Senate's Hunger Caucus last week to "put it in perspective."

Local groceries anchor community businesses, and though the decline of such stores has been gradual, this issue has become key for the center, Procter testified. Since 2006, 82 out of 213 Kansas communities with 2,500 or fewer people have lost their local grocery; but this isn't solely a Kansas problem, Procter said: It's happening across the country and globally in places like Canada, Mexico and Gambia. Procter was a "driving force" in organizing a Rural Grocery Store Summit in 2010, which attracted more than 200 participants from 13 states.

Procter said low prices offered at big-box stores and an increasingly mobile society lure customers away from local stores. Other causes include changes in food distribution, which sometimes require stores to make minimum orders of $10,000 to $12,000 a week; high operational costs for older buildings; limited labor force, and high owner burn-out rate are also factors working against local groceries. Other businesses suffer when local groceries close, along with tyhe health and nutrition of the community, Procter said. (Read more)

A third Rural Grocery Store Summit is planned for June 5-6, 2012. Information about the summit can be found here.

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