Iowa Public Television

 

Town buys grocery, keeps it going

posted on February 25, 2000


THERE ARE A NUMBER OF INSTITUTIONS CRITICAL TO MAINTAINING THE LIFE OF A RURAL COMMUNITY. SCHOOLS ARE PERHAPS THE MOST IMPORTANT. A SCHOOL DISTRICT CONSOLIDATION THAT CLOSES A SCHOOL IS PRACTICALLY A DEATH KNELL FOR THE LITTLE TOWN IN WHICH IT WAS LOCATED.

OTHER ESTABLISHMENTS ARE IMPORTANT, AS WELL. BANKS, RAIL SERVICE, GRAIN ELEVATORS, MEDICAL CLINICS ... ALL ARE ESSENTIAL TO THE VIABILITY OF A SMALL TOWN, AS ARE LESS HIGH PROFILE CONCERNS. A CASE IN POINT IS THE DETERMINED EFFORT OF A SMALL IOWA COMMUNITY TO SAVE A MAIN STREET BUSINESS THAT MANY WOULD TAKE FOR GRANTED. DAVID MILLER REPORTS.

SCRANTON, IOWA IS TYPICAL OF MANY TOWNS ACROSS THE MID-WEST. THERE IS A POST OFFICE, A BANK, A SCHOOL, AND A GRAIN ELEVATOR. THE TRAIN COMES THROUGH EVERY 30 MINUTES OR SO.

BUT IN APRIL OF 1998, SCRANTON RESIDENTS WERE DEALT A BLOW THAT HAS MEANT THE END FOR MORE THAN ONE SMALL COMMUNITY...THE GROCERY STORE CLOSED. TRAFFIC, AND BUSINESS, FELL OFF ON MAINSTREET.

B.A. MacDonald: "a grocery store is the life of of the town. We all have to eat.

B.A. MACDONALD, MAYOR OF SCRANTON FOR MORE THAN 38 YEARS, WAS CONCERNED WHEN HE FOUND OUT THE GROCERY STORE WAS CLOSING. HE KNEW THAT FIFTEEN MINUTES AWAY WERE FOUR GROCERY STORES READY TO TAKE SCRANTON'S BUSINESS. HE ALSO KNEW THAT LOSING THE PLACE WHERE RESIDENTS BOUGHT THEIR FOOD COULD BE "THE BEGINNING OF THE END" FOR SCRANTON.

B.A. MacDonald: "if we can keep the people in town to buy their groceries they're going to perhaps build here, want to live here, and it it helped other businesses to locate or stay in Scranton. With a grocery store."

MOST SMALL TOWN RESIDENTS REALIZE HOW IMPORTANT THE GROCERY STORE IS TO THE GENERAL FABRIC OF THEIR COMMUNITY WHEN IT'S ALREADY TOO LATE. IN THE EARLY 80s, IOWA HAD MORE THAN 1900 GROCERY STORES. OVER THE PAST 20 YEARS, THE NUMBER HAS DWINDLED TO AROUND 950.

TYPICAL FOR MACDONALD, HE DID NOT WAIT AROUND FOR SOMEONE TO RIDE TO SCRANTON'S RESCUE. HE FORMED A STEERING COMMITTEE THAT CONCLUDED THE TOWN OF SCRANTON SHOULD PURCHASE THE GROCERY STORE THROUGH THE SALE OF STOCK. IN SEPTEMBER OF 1998, AFTER APPROVAL BY BOTH THE CITY COUNCIL AND RESIDENTS, SCRANTON GROCERY, INCORPORATED WAS LAUNCHED.

THE BOARD DECIDED NOT TO HAVE VOLUNTEERS RUN THE STORE AFTER HEARING THAT OTHER MARKETS CLOSED THEIR DOORS WHEN VOLUNTEERS LOST INTEREST IN KEEPING UP THE SHOP AND BUSINESS FELL-OFF. THE STAFF NOW INCLUDES TWO PART-TIME AND TWO FULL-TIME EMPLOYEES.

JOAN ST. CLAIR, THE OFFICE MANAGER AT MACDONALD'S INSURANCE COMPANY, WAS ELECTED PRESIDENT OF THE UNPAID 9-MEMBER BOARD.

St. Clair: "there have been some real frustrating times and some nerve-racking times. And you know there I I think it's frustration more than anything else, you know, "how can we correct this" or what what you know "what are we doing wrong?"

SALES OF STOCK BEGAN. ANYONE COULD BUY AS MANY SHARES AS THEY WANTED FOR $50 DOLLARS EACH. THE ONLY CATCH WAS THAT NO MATTER HOW MANY SHARES WERE PURCHASED AN INVESTOR WAS ONLY ENTITLED TO ONE VOTE AT THE STOCKHOLDERS MEETING. 180 RESIDENTS STEPPED UP TO PURCHASE STOCK AND THE CORPORATION STILL HAS MORE FOR SALE.

A CONSULTANT TOLD THE BOARD THEY WOULD NEED $80-THOUSAND TO GET THE STORE UP AND RUNNING. WITH THE CLOCK-TICKING, AND BARELY $60-THOUSAND IN COMMITMENTS, THE STOCKHOLDERS AGREED TO BEGIN WORK.

St.Clair: "I still wish that we had a little more capital... When we started we were a little under-capitalized, and we knew that. We don't have the reserves that I'd like to see.

IN EARLY NOVEMBER OF 1998, MORE THAN TWENTY-FIVE VOLUNTEERS ENTERED THE STORE AND BEGAN THIRTY STRAIGHT DAYS OF REMODELING. ON DECEMBER 3RD, 1998, AFTER A 7-MONTH DROUGHT, THE SCRANTON GROCERY OPENED FOR BUSINESS. SINCE THEN THE DOORS HAVE BEEN OPEN 7-DAYS-A- WEEK.

WHEN ALL WAS SAID AND DONE, THE CORPORATION RAISED $82-THOUSAND, INCLUDING A FIFTEEN-THOUSAND DOLLAR GRANT FROM THE STATE'S RACING AND GAMING COMMISSION. SEVERAL MORE RESIDENTS, WHO CHOSE NOT TO OWN ANY STOCK, CONTRIBUTED THEIR TIME, MONEY, OR CONSTRUCTION MATERIALS.

ST.CLAIR SUMS UP THE FIRST YEAR FOR THE STORE.

Joan StClair: "Challenging. Is that short enough? You know, it's it's none of us know anything about the grocery business when we stared this. Now, there's nine of us, we're all working some place else or involved pretty deeply in some other business. Uh, full time. And so, you know to do this on a part time basis has taken a lot of it takes a lot of time. And energy.

IN DECEMBER OF 1999, THE SCRANTON GROCERY STORE CELEBRATED ITS ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY. THE PAST 12 MONTHS HAVE BEEN ONES OF CHANGE AND SUCCESS. WHEN THE STORE OPENED, THE TOWN SOUGHT EXPERIENCED MANAGEMENT AND HIRED DON INTVELDT, THE OWNER OF A NEARBY GROCERY STORE. IN SEPTEMBER OF 1999, ERLA COELLNER (COAL-NER) AND CAROLYN WEDDLE (WED-DULL), THE TWO FULL-TIME EMPLOYEES, TOOK THE HELM. MEANWHILE, THE WEEKLY TAKE HAS BEEN TOPING THE $7-THOUSAND MARK, EXCEEDING THE PREVIOUS PRIVATE OWNERS RECORD WEEK.

St.Clair: " think the eight months we went without one taught us a lot. If it didn't, why, we're in trouble. And I think also the fact that a lot of people have invested in it even though it was not a major investment at, $50 a share, it still is, I I've had people, you know, talk about "our store" and it is, it's our store, its not any one persons store. It's not Scranton's store, it's OUR you know each each investor's store."

AND RESIDENTS WOULD AGREE WITH ST. CLAIR'S ASSESSMENT.

Carol Morlan: "We should support our businesses in town or we're gonna loose them, like we just about did this on. So I think it's important we shop here as often as we can.

IN 1998, THE CITY PROVIDED SOME FREE HOME-SITES TO ENCOURAGE PEOPLE TO LOCATE IN SCRANTON. SCRANTON MANUFACTURING, THE TOWN'S MAJOR EMPLOYER, A MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR MAKER OF GARBAGE AND RECYCLING TRUCKS, BEGAN WORKING WITH THE CITY TO ACQUIRE LOW INTEREST LOANS FOR NEW RESIDENTS. IT HOPED SOME OF ITS EIGHTY EMPLOYEES WOULD BE ABLE TO MOVE CLOSER TO WORK.

EVEN-SO FAMILIES LOOKING FOR HOMES IN SCRANTON DID NOT WANT TO MOVE-IN IF THERE WAS NOT A GROCERY STORE.

THE GROCERY STORE ASSURES POTENTIAL NEW RESIDENTS OF THE COMMUNITY'S VIABILITY.

SINCE LAST YEAR, HOUSES HAVE BEEN BUILT ON TWO OF THE LOTS. ALTHOUGH THE OWNERS OF THIS HOME DO NOT WORK AT SCRANTON MANUFACTURING, CITY OFFICIALS ARE ENCOURAGED ABOUT THE TOWN'S ABILITY TO ATTRACT PEOPLE. THE OTHER HOUSE WAS CONSTRUCTED IN ANTICIPATION OF MORE PEOPLE SETTLING IN THE COMMUNITY OF 580.

IN THE MEAN TIME, THE STOCKHOLDERS CONTINUE TO LOOK FOR MORE WAYS TO BUILD A CUSTOMER BASE AND ENSURE A SOLID FUTURE FOR THE STORE.

St.Clair: "I guess we're open to suggestions and ideas, looking for things that will bring people into the store. Looking for a niche that could be ours. We're looking for that that you know brilliant idea that'll bring people into our store."

FOR MARKET TO MARKET, I'M DAVID MILLER.

Tags: agriculture food groceries Iowa news rural