Skip to main navigation.

Main Street Market-Keeping communities stocked

Related story: Star Grocery, New Leipzig

by Luann Dart
Shirley Reese, who manages Hazelton’s Main Street Market, would love to see the community support its grocery store.

“We need to relay to our community the need for them to be willing to spend even a little bit of their money here. If every community member in every small rural community was willing to spend $25 to $50 a week at their rural grocery store, most rural grocery stores would never be in danger of closing,” she points out.

View Rural Grocer Revival, featuring Shirley Reese, manager of Main Street Market.

“People don’t really appreciate the value that they bring to their community by shopping local. It’s going to cost a little more, but there are definitely benefits. If you lose your grocery store, it’s hard for other businesses to recruit people to work there because there is no grocery store,” Capouch adds.

The Hazelton store also closed seven years ago, but a group of community investors re-opened it. Reese has managed it for about a year, with a five-member board, including four investors and a member of the community.

Last year, the store launched an aggressive marketing campaign, which included lowering prices on a group of products every couple of weeks, offering monthly promotions, and giving a discount to local nonprofit organizations to encourage them to purchase local for their events.

“We did different types of marketing promotions that included item giveaways with a minimum purchase, and advertised our lowered prices throughout the community,” explains Reese.

With 25 different suppliers, the store is still struggling to “get a good selection of groceries in the store at prices our consumers are willing to pay,” Reese says.

The New Leipzig store is able to supplement its bottom line with JDA funds, and through an annual fundraising German supper during Oktoberfest.

But with no coins cushioning the store’s bottom line, equipment failures can be devastating.

“They struggle mostly, and we do, too, when equipment goes out,” Shirley Roehl says. The New Leipzig store sought grant funds to help replace aging freezers, but still had to find additional funds.

“It’s unbelievable, the amount of work they’re going through. Also, they have to be the jack-of-all-trades. They have to do it all by themselves,” Capouch says.

The promotions have helped the Hazelton store move toward a better bottom line, Reese says, and she wants to share their success with others.

“Our store has struggled through the years greatly. Now we’re reaching a point of stability, which is very encouraging, but we also know that our store isn’t the only store that struggles in North Dakota, so if we can’t take a little bit of time out of our busy schedules to try to help with the solutions that might help stabilize rural stores all over North Dakota, then we’re kind of doing a disservice to our community and our state,” Reese says.

“It helps to know we’re not alone. All the little stores are kind of in the same boat as we are. We are one of the fortunate ones because we have the JDA behind us,” Shirley Roehl says. In some communities, it’s an individual that is carrying the burden of the entire store, she points out.

“Finding out what the survey showed wasn’t anything new,” Reese says. “We knew that we struggled with customers being devoted to shopping in a rural store, we knew that we struggled with our prices being high because we have a hard time finding sources for things.” But the opportunity to network with other grocers has been priceless, Reese says, which makes her excited about an upcoming January gathering of rural grocers.

“Moving into the new year, we’re kind of excited to see what will happen moving forward,” Reese says.

Keeping the rural grocery stores open is the only option, Reese says.

“It is important to the overall health and functionality of a community. You have senior citizens, families and people with special health needs that cannot travel, especially in the wintertime. To be able to have fresh produce available to these people is a really big deal,” she says. “The rural store is really the heart of the community.” 

Luann Dart is a freelance writer and editor who lives near Elgin.