‘An anchor institution’: Residents of Emerson, Nebraska buy groceries back | Columnists: Nick Hytrek
EMERSON, Neb. – When the Post 60 Market grocery store opens soon in Emerson, the community will literally run the store.
If necessary, many residents here might be willing to work there for free. A number of them have already done so, showing up once, twice or three times to voluntarily unpack shipments of dry and canned goods and stock the shelves.
They are thrilled to have a grocery store in town and will do whatever it takes to make sure they won’t be without one again.
“We have a lot of community support for this,” said Emerson resident Mark Graf. “It’s going better than expected, and it’s exciting. But most of all, I’m excited to have a grocery store back in town.”
He and the rest of the approximately 800 residents of this community, the only one in Nebraska to be located in three counties – Dakota, Dixon and Thurston.
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But since 2018, the highest number here was 0, like zero grocery stores in town after Mike’s Food Town closed.
“We went from grocery shopping in town to driving 20 to 30 minutes to the nearest grocery store,” Graf said of the inconvenience everyone, especially older residents who have a harder time getting to. move, suffered.
They won’t make those trips to Pender, Wayne, West Point, South Sioux City or longer.
As soon as the cash registers arrive, the Post 60 market could open, store manager Brian Horak said on a recent day as more than a dozen volunteers helped him stock shelves with the latest shipment of cash registers. grocery.
“Whenever I need help, many volunteers show up,” Horak said. “Every town needs a grocery store.”
You won’t find anyone at Emerson who disagrees.
“That’s what the town needs to keep going. We want to try,” said Fred Sebade, an Emerson farmer who was among the volunteer storekeepers.
In 2020, a group of citizens, together with the village council, began looking for ways to bring a store back to town. With help from the University of Nebraska Extension, they formed a steering committee to explore feasibility and ownership models.
It’s a challenge that many small rural towns face, said Charlotte Narjes, Rural Prosperity Extension Educator.
Without a grocery store in town, older residents who have difficulty driving may choose to move to a community that has grocery stores. The presence or absence of a grocery store can play a role when moving families decide which city to settle in.
“This grocery store is an anchor institution,” Narjes said.
The people of Emerson no longer wanted to be burdened with the lack of a grocery store.
The community formed the Emerson Grocery Cooperative, an ownership model that gives those who buy stock a vote in how the store operates. More than 160 shares have been sold so far, raising more than $120,000, said Graf, chairman of the co-op’s board.
With the old grocery store building sold and unavailable, the co-op board needed a location. In the American Legion Post 60 of Emerson, who was looking to sell his Main Street building that needed some work.
Proceeds from stock sales, grants, donations and loans funded the purchase and complete renovation of the former Legion Hall. The store was named Post 60 Market in honor of the Legion, which will retain a meeting room inside.
“It worked perfectly for both the store and the Legion,” said Horak, an Emerson native who as a high school student worked at Mike’s Food Town and at one time operated a grocery store with his brother in Springfield, Nebraska.
Horak will analyze shoppers’ purchases to determine which products to add or remove from the store, which will employ two full-time and six part-time employees.
“The city is going to run the store a certain way, and I’m going to make it happen,” he said. “It’s the store in town.”
Emerson residents seem ready to make it work.
In Sebade’s driveway, co-shareholder and shelf stocking volunteer Janie Gutzmann said she, along with almost everyone else in town, was thrilled to have a grocery store back in town. This added much needed buzz and traffic.
“It’s nice to see cars on Main Street, and that’s what Emerson is going to have again, it’s cars on Main Street,” Gutzmann said.
And those cars will be heading downtown, not on the road, for groceries.