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We live in an age where big-named retail brands seem to rule the market. Stores like Walmart and Dollar General seem to be everywhere, even in rural areas. The market space appears to be shrinking for independent grocers. Yet, despite the competition, independent grocers are more important now than ever.
Stems the Tide of Food Deserts
Medical News Today describes a food desert as, an area with limited access to a variety of healthy foods. The USDA also considers the poverty rate and the average distance to a large grocery store. In urban areas, 33% of the population must live within 1 mile of a large grocery store. In rural areas, 33% must live within 10 miles of a large grocery store. In 2015, the USDA found that 39 million people in the US were living in low access food areas. Now, with the effects of COVID-19, communities are struggling more than ever.
A Nation of Abundance, A Nation of Hunger
In a country known for being a “nation of abundance,” many of our citizens are hungry and malnourished. Feeding America, a non-profit organization, reveals surprising numbers in our surrounding areas.
- Kansas: 1-in-8 struggle with hunger. 1-in-5 children struggle with hunger.
- Iowa: 1-in-10 struggle with hunger. 1-in-7 children struggle with hunger.
- Missouri: 1-in-8 struggle with hunger. 1-in-8 children struggle with hunger.
- Ohio: 1-in-7 struggle with hunger. 1-in-5 children struggle with hunger.
- Illinois: 1-in-10 struggle with hunger. 1-in-8 children struggle with hunger.
Overall, in America, it’s estimated that 1-in-9 people struggle with hunger, and 1-in-7 children struggle with hunger.
One antagonist, especially rural areas, is the increase in dollar stores. According to Civil Eats, another non-profit, Dollar General opens three stores per day. It was estimated, before the pandemic, that Dollar General would open another 1,000 stores in 2020. Stores like these contribute to food deserts in America.
Dollar stores enter rural communities and often beat independent grocer prices. Because of this, independent grocers lose their ability to stay afloat. Dollar stores stock their grocery aisles with convenience items, not fresh produce. When dollar stores put independent grocers out of business, the community has no access to easily attainable produce. Thus, the number of food deserts increases, and our communities continue to suffer.
Shopping at Walmart doesn’t feel like a friendly shopping experience. Customers wait in long lines due to a lack of open registers and finding assistance is challenging and time-consuming. Most of us don’t feel cared for or appreciated as customers. If anything, the shopping experience feels cold and sterile.
The shopping experience in an independent grocery store is different. Employees learn faces and names. They inquire about your family. They take the time to walk to the exact location of the item you’re looking for. They help you load your groceries into your car. They take care to ensure that you feel appreciated as a customer.
Independent grocers also work to support their communities. Many stores put up community bulletin boards for community members to read or post on. Because they consider it important, it’s often at the very front of the store. The board provides an opportunity for unemployed residents to find jobs. It gives a voice to residents by showing when the next city council meeting will occur. It gifts a little boy or girl a puppy for Chrismas when someone posts puppies for sale. And, to support local farmers, many owners locally source their meat or produce.
Independent grocers create personal connections with their customers. They build strong bonds within their communities. They’re present when a resident’s home burns down to provide necessities. They display congratulations on their signs with pride when their senior class graduates. An independent grocery store is so much more than a brick-and-mortar building. It’s a place where grocers can show their community love and support.