Lidgerwood has one school, three bars and three churches — two Lutheran and one Catholic. The one thing it doesn’t have? A grocery store.
Now residents have few local grocery options, other than a few aisles of canned and packaged food at Diamond One Stop and Dakota Plains convenience stores. That forces residents to drive elsewhere for most fresh produce. Given that the nearest grocery store is Miller’s Fresh Foods at Hankinson, a 30-mile round trip, residents have few food options at home.
“We are not designed to shop for a family with four kids to do their grocery shopping,” said Weldon Hoesel earlier, who had managed Dakota Plains before his retirement. Some convenience items were removed from shelves at Dakota Plains to make room for the expanded grocery items so Lidgerwood residents didn’t have to drive elsewhere for all of their foodstuffs.
Rural grocery stores — faced with increasing competition and ever-rising costs — are disappearing from the American landscape and taking some small-town charm with them. The loss of a local pharmacy, hardware store or other retail business also can diminish the appeal of small-town life.
The lack of a grocery has far-reaching effects. Home values plummeted here after the November 2018 fire closed Lidgerwood Market, Hoesel said, who is president of the Lidgerwood Community Development Corporation. He worries home values will plunge even more as the years go on without a grocery store here. That 25 percent decline could turn into a 50 percent decrease in valuation, he said.
Existing businesses are feeling the pinch of not having a grocery store here, Hoesel said, everything from the hardware store to barber shop and nail salon — reduced traffic means reduced profit margins.
Advocates say the time to act is now, before more grocery store closures with the resulting loss of fresh, affordable food options. One of those advocates is Lori Capouch, whose task as Rural Development director for the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives is to “improve the quality of life in rural places.”
“We’ve been tracking rural grocery stores for about five years and collecting data from them, and they’ve been declining,” Capouch said. In 2014, she said, there were 137 full-service grocery stores in North Dakota cities with a population of 2,100 or less. Now that number is just 103.
The elderly, especially those who are not as mobile and living on Social Security, are hit the hardest when a local grocery store closes, she said.
In control of its destiny
A public meeting was held Oct. 16 to lay out plans for how Lidgerwood plans to build a grocery store. About 160 people attended this meeting, said Brian Baldwin, who serves on the committee tasked with building a grocery store.
The store will be community owned and is expected to cost about $1.4 million, which includes purchasing the property, building, plumbing, electrical and equipment, Baldwin said.
The committee is organizing today to canvass the community and raise pledges to build a new store on the site of the former Lidgerwood Market. The amenities of city power, sewer and water already are in place, Hoesel said, making this the best option.
It’s hoped all — or at least the vast majority — of funds will come in the form of cash and pledges, Baldwin said.
Building and then operating a grocery store is no easy venture for a small town. Historically, grocery stores operate under a low profit margin — 2.5 percent nationwide. Every dollar borrowed has to be paid back, Baldwin said, so the committee prefers not to burden its grocery store with a lot of debt in a market where profits are geared toward the volume of items sold. Small towns have lower volumes, then subsequent lower profits.
The trend of grocery store closures is not slowing down, Baldwin said. There’s no market change that’s reversing that, he said.
“If you want a grocery store in a small community, you aren’t going to find an individual owner who will come in and invest $1 million into a building and equipment and live comfortably,” he said.
That leaves Lidgerwood having to collect pledges to build its own store. The committee will also try and recruit a partner to run the business and then pay rent. That rent will be used in future years when equipment needs to be replaced or for building expansions or changes, Baldwin said.
The group will begin collecting pledges in the next week or two, Hoesel said, who hopes to have all the cash and pledges in place by February 2020 so construction on the new grocery store can begin as early as next spring.