Blog for Rural America

The Center for Rural Affairs, a private, non-profit organization, is working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities. Permission to reprint items from this web log is hereby granted, on the condition that clear credit is given to the original source of the material. If the blog provides information for a story, please let us know by sending an email to

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Grocery Stores that Lined Main Street were...

Rural Communities Embrace Cooperative Grocery Stores

by Nafeesa Syeed, Associated Press, January 8, 2007...

ANITA, Iowa -- The grocery stores that lined Main Street were always key to the little farm town of Anita, Iowa.

At one time, four groceries met the needs of the large families who lived in the town and surrounding areas. Maxine Christensen recalls the horses that farmers once hitched behind her family's general store. “Grocery stores were a staple of town,” said the 85-year-old Christensen.

Times have changed as Anita's population dwindled and larger competitors arrived, but the final market remained so important that its pending closure spurred residents to buy shares and create a grocery cooperative.

Co-ops are old hat for most Midwest farmers, but experts believe only a dozen or so across the nation have been created to hang onto community groceries. It's a move some think will spread to other rural areas beset by similar problems, but they caution that such efforts carry risk.

In Anita, townspeople felt they had no choice – loss of the 90-year-old Main Street Market would mean a virtual end to downtown traffic and trouble for the businesses that remained. And residents wondered what would become of their town without a gathering spot.
"I know quite a few people in town really just because of the store," said Don Norris, 40, who buys all his meat at the market.

In creating the Anita Grocery Cooperative, residents formed a board and sold about 300 shares at $200 a piece. The co-op board also took out $150,000 in public and private loans. On Dec. 1, the market opened its doors under new ownership.

Although most residents could have managed the inconvenience of a longer drive for groceries in the regional city of Atlantic, rural towns lose something when fixtures such as a grocery store close. A domino effect kicks in and other businesses begin closing, said Kimberley Zeuli, who studies rural cooperatives and is a visiting professor of economics at The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va.

"At some point, it's no longer a town," Zeuli said. "It's just a gas station."

Townspeople understand this shift and often try to fight it, frequently by embracing the very chain competitors who put Main Street shops out of business. But many communities can't entice a Wal-Mart or Target, and in the past decade more have turned to innovative approaches such as co-ops, Zeuli said.

Of the roughly 300 food-store cooperatives nationwide, 5 percent or less are conventional grocery stores, said Stuart Reid, a food co-op development specialist with Food Co-op 500.

The private organization grants money to cooperatives through sponsors such as the National Cooperative Bank.

Any thoughts? Post a comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.


  • At 11:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Now THIS is a good idea. I know the person from North Dakota is often asking us to stop debating language and such and put ideas on the table - and this is an idea that a lot more rural communities should use... Whiting, Iowa

  • At 2:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    What about North Dakota? They have 5 or 6 of these and other cooperative businesses as well.

  • At 12:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    there are also a couple of community or cooperatively owned theaters and a cooperative owned restaurant in North Dakota

  • At 11:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'm the one from North Dakota that Whiting, Iowa is referring to. I think this is a wonderful idea! My hometown lost its theater when I was just a kid and about 12 years ago or so the community cooperatively re-opened the theater. They have local businesses volunteer each weekend to sell the tickets and concessions and its worked out really well.
    They've been able to keep the prices amazingly inexpensive as a result of this.
    I think that small communities really ought to look into this further.


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