- Associated Press - Saturday, March 29, 2014

CRESWELL, Ore. (AP) - When it comes to feeding a small town, Creswell residents are learning that it takes a village - and a creative one, at that.

The town’s only major grocery store, Ray’s Food Place, recently closed, leaving residents to shop for a few basics at their local Bi-Mart and Dari Mart stores or drive at least 10 miles to fill their pantries.

“There are a variety of ways people can get all kinds of convenience foods, but if you want to get a banana or cucumber, you’ve got to leave town,” Mayor Dave Stram said. “It takes time, and it takes some gas money.”

Stram directs a small group of community members who meet weekly in hopes of bringing another grocer to the area soon. So far, no retailers are biting, although the group declined to specify which stores they’ve contacted.

Most major chains already have stores in Cottage Grove, Eugene or Springfield, and the Ray’s space, which is about 40,000 square feet, is more than four times as large as most small retailers want.

In the meantime, the community group is developing alternative ways for residents to access fresh produce and other food items in town, such as strengthening the town’s weekly farmers’ market and implementing a natural food cooperative. The group may even arrange in the future for a van or bus to take residents to neighboring towns for their grocery needs because it could be at least a year before another grocer moves in, members of the group said.

The Brookings-based C&K; Market Inc., which operated about 60 Ray’s Food Place, Shop Smart, C&K; Market and LoBuck$ grocery stores in Oregon and Northern California, filed for the protection of bankruptcy court in November. It said then that it planned to sell or close about a third of its stores, including Ray’s stores in Creswell and Pleasant Hill.

About 100 community members responded to the closure by banding together in a Grocery Forum, co-sponsored by the city, the Creswell Library, the Creswell School District, the Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis, Siuslaw Bank, The Creswell Chronicle and Community Food for Creswell.

“A lot of people stood up and said, ‘we’d love to have a grocery store come, but what can we do for ourselves?’” said Creswell Library Director Su Liudahl, who leads a community involvement group called “Positively Creswell,” which meets monthly and has collaborated with the grocery steering group led by Stram, which meets weekly.

Liudahl, who lives in Eugene, said she’s aware that swinging by a grocery store on the way home from work is a luxury to many people in the Creswell community.

“There’s always some little thing that you need at the last minute, and people in Creswell just don’t have access to that anymore,” she said.

She said her group hopes to grow the library-sponsored weekly farmers’ market, which meets behind the library from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. every Tuesday, May through October.

And she hopes that the market can eventually collaborate with food co-operatives so that residents can place weekly orders with co-ops at the market and pick up grocery orders there the following week, Liudahl said.

As for drawing a grocery store to town, Liudahl said most small retailers would prefer to locate in a 7,000- to 10,000-square-foot building on the west side of the freeway rather than in the much larger former Ray’s store on the other side.

“They’re very interested in Creswell, but we don’t have a space for them,” she said, since no buildings in that size range are vacant right now.

With about 5,000 people living in Creswell and another 5,000 or so outside city limits, Liudahl said, the town simply isn’t big enough to be a draw for large retailers. Some require a population base of 40,000 people before they’ll consider opening a store, she said.

Lane County resident Sheila Hale, a volunteer in the grocery group who lives just outside Creswell, says she’s trying to stay optimistic about a future grocery store while she works to find alternative solutions.

“We all have our fingers crossed and our eyes open,” she said.

The lack of a neighborhood grocery store has made her feel “a little bit anxious and helpless” at times, she said, but she said she’s been inspired to see the community pull together.

“It’s a fabulous time for Creswell,” she said.

“I just hope the door opens soon.”


Information from: The Register-Guard, https://www.registerguard.com

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