Small town grocers seek strategies to survive

Downtown Clinton
Main Street in downtown Clinton, Minn. is home to Bonnie's Hometown Grocery.
Ann Arbor Miller / For MPR News 2012

It's a big challenge running a small grocery in small town Minnesota.

Groceries in rural towns of 700 people or fewer typically sell little beyond the essentials and often function at the edge of bankruptcy, says Ryan Pesch, a University of Minnesota extension educator.

Surviving means getting creative. That will be the topic today when local Minnesota grocers meet in Granite Falls to discuss solutions. The Southwest Food Network hosts the rural grocery discussion in the Kilowatt Community Center.

Pesch, who works with the food network, said the organization's main goal is improving food accessibility in rural Minnesota. "Keeping small town grocery stores alive is a big part of that," he said.

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2012: Small grocery store fills gap in W. Minn. 'food desert'

Beyond any economic impact, he hopes to increase the quality of food available to rural people. Right now, fresh vegetables are the first thing to go when a grocery falls on hard times.

"You can have a can of beans on the shelf for a long time." he said, "but having fresh leafy greens is a little harder. If they're not sold immediately they're a total loss."

Bringing healthy food to rural areas can improve business, he said. One small town grocer Pesch talked to sells produce from local growers on consignment, providing "fresh vegetables without the risk."