Manhattan, Ks. – According to a survey done by Kansas State University, one third of all small-town stores closed just in the past three years. It's partly because rural populations are dwindling and mom and pop markets aren't able to compete with large chains.
Some small Kansas towns, like Onega, are thinking outside of the box to try and reverse the trends. Onaga lost its only grocery store in Dec. 2010. Fearing for the future of the city, the Onaga City Council put $375,000 towards building a new grocery store, which is now set to open this December. (Hear a story about Onaga's grocery store.)
According to K-State professor David Procter, these creative ways of keep grocery stores around usually involve some kind of public-private partnership. Some have opened grocery stores as non-profits. In others, residents buy shares in the stores. There are a few places where high school students are taking charge. Proctor says he expects to see more partnerships in rural America between public and private dollars to help establish and sustain grocery stores.
"Increasingly, people believe that having access to healthy food is a public good. It's like having good roads, good schools - it's something that needs to be present as part of living in that community," Proctor says.
Procter is the director of the Center for Engagement and Community Development, which runs the Rural Grocery Initiative . He's tracking grocery stores in towns with less than 2,500 people and helping get some off of the ground.