- Associated Press - Sunday, May 21, 2017

KENESAW, Neb. (AP) - As the owner of the grocery stores in Kenesaw and Fairmont prepares to move with her family to Creighton, she hopes to find a buyer for each of her businesses.

Tammy Thompson lives in Kenesaw where she has owned and operated the Kenesaw Market grocery store for 11 years. She also has owned the Family Market in Fairmont for six years.

Her husband Rob, who had been superintendent and elementary principal at Kenesaw Public Schools, will begin work July 1 as superintendent at Creighton Public Schools.

“Both stores are up for sale,” Thompson said. “I plan to begin selling the Fairmont store’s inventory soon, auctioning fixtures and equipment later this summer and be done by the end of July - by the sale of it as a going business or through liquidation, if necessary.”

There is no solid decision at this point, she said.

There are many positives connected to small-town living: Small-town hospitality, a slower pace of life, a lower cost of living, and charming places to shop, just to name a few.

Fairmont’s Family Market, located in the village of 560, offers many advantages, tips and features.

The store offers small-town customer service and is easy to navigate, and the staff helps customers when needed. There are no long check-out lines, and parking is easily accessible.

Family Market also had a café side, which closed in January 2016. It had featured breakfasts, lunches, carry-out meals and coffee.

Now, the store is up against the harsh reality of a possible closure, but a committee has been formed and is working diligently to keep it open.

Thompson said the minimum order requirements by grocery warehouses led her to purchase the Fairmont store, which made it better for her financially.

Thompson said she has enjoyed her time with the Family Market.

“I have a passion for small towns, and the four employees I’ve had at Fairmont have been great to work with,” she said. “They’re honest, hard-working people. There’s a lot of work involved with grocery stores - it’s not an easy job, and I’ve been so fortunate to have worked with them.”

In a separate interview, she said people in Kenesaw largely have been good customers and support the store there.

“There’s a lot of good people here,” she said. “There’s people that truly believe in Kenesaw and they are very good supporters of the community.”

Soon after hearing Thompson’s plans, Fairmont residents formed the Save Our Store committee. Group members include Derek Betka, Shelia Lauby, Aaron and Jodi Fintel, Rhonda Veleba, Village Clerk Linda Carroll, and Pat Lentfer, executive director of the Fillmore County Development Corp.

“A grocery store is the heart of a small community, so when local community club members realized the current owner wanted to sell, they took action and formed a Save Our Store committee,” Lentfer said. “They have been meeting since last fall and have gotten help from Jim Crandall, a Cooperative Business Development specialist from (the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.) He has worked with other small towns in the same circumstance.”

No community efforts are under way in Kenesaw yet, as Thompson has been working with a couple individuals in town who are interested in purchasing the Kenesaw Market.

In Fairmont, Lauby said, survey questionnaires were sent out to community members, committee meetings were conducted and public information meetings were offered.

The committee invited leaders from Henderson and Utica to explain how group investors and purchasing inventory from larger stores helped save their grocery stores.

UNL specialist Crandall said there are a number of reasons for small-town grocery stores to close - the main one being a lack of family to carry on the store as owners reach retirement or have medical issues. There is also the lack of customers patronizing the stores and stores not meeting the needs of the community.

When these issues arise, communities look for local solutions - a family who will own the store or a larger nearby store that would put in a branch store.

Crandall said another solution can be a group of community members purchasing shares in the business, using as many community members as possible to share the risk and hoping everyone spends more of their grocery dollars at home.

Crandall, who is based in Holdrege, said the grocery store often is a gathering place within the community. When customers shop there, they tend to shop at other nearby stores as well.

He referred to a small community in the Nebraska Panhandle, which had a steering committee similar to SOS aiming to save that community’s grocery store. A woman from the local hardware store said foot traffic dropped 30-40 percent at her business when the grocery store closed.

“So it becomes an economic driver for any business on main street, especially in towns like Kenesaw or Fairmont,” he said.

In a different town, a real estate agent serving on the community’s grocery store committee said data showed a drop in home values due to lack of essential services.

“That was her approach to that that over the long haul without a grocery store in town, it makes our community less favorable to move to or stay in because of not having those services,” Crandall said.

Losing a grocery store becomes a little bit of a rolling stone, he said.

“It’s not only grocery stores, it would be any of those kind of essential businesses to a community,” he said, also listing gas stations and restaurants.

“Losing any of those affects the viability of a small town,” he said.

With a family-owned grocery store already in Creighton, Thompson said she doesn’t plan to get into the business again.

“There is one belief my husband and I both have, and that is in small communities the businesses and school go hand in hand,” she said. “One cannot survive without the other. I do not want the Kenesaw store to close because I think it is very valuable to the school.”

The Fairmont committee is hoping an individual or family will purchase the business. If that doesn’t happen, there are still the other options.

Wanda Marget, who has lived in Fairmont her entire life, supported the Family Market and would hate to see it close.

“It is very handy for me to shop there, and there are a lot of elderly people who need it,” Marget said. “We need to keep our businesses on main street.”

Things are happening in Fairmont: Young couples are moving back, and new businesses are emerging. The progressive Fairmont Community Club, replacing the former chamber of commerce, was formed in 2011 and plans events to meet the needs of the people.

The old lumberyard was purchased by Mark Jarosz and is now Midwest Mobile Technician Inc. Due to the amount of available space, spin-off businesses are anticipated there.

A new photography studio, Red Door Studios, is set to open May 6 on main street, and the village has annexed Casey’s alongside U.S. Highway 81.

The main street atmosphere is upbeat, with music that is played over speakers put in two years ago as part of the main street improvement project. The style of music changed daily includes oldies and country western selections.

Lentfer said Fairmont has a lot to offer a new businessperson.

Fairmont has a lot going for it industry-wise, as Flint Hills Resources announced a $50 million expansion and The Andersons and CPI Lansing-Fairmont are strong companies, as well,” she said. “Most recently it was announced that there will be a small wind farm (three turbines) just west of Fairmont. Being on two transcontinental highways and having a BNSF mainline run through Fairmont means there is lots of traffic and activity and potential for more growth.

“Surrounded by rich farmland (and) productive farmers means even more possibilities. Consequently, this committee is working hard to keep a grocery store on main street that will serve the needs of the community.”

Family Market history relates back to pre-1946 when it was owned by Dan Roth, the Hastings Tribune (http://bit.ly/2rwVc7z ) reported. In 1946 it was purchased by Don and Gardie Beavers after they were discharged from the U.S. Navy following World War II. Other owners have included Larry and Pat Hilty, Gregory “Sam” and Marilyn Rehm, Jerry and Bonnie Gangstad and Holly and Ivan Davenport.

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Information from: Hastings Tribune, http://www.hastingstribune.com

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