- Associated Press - Sunday, May 3, 2020

GOWRIE, Iowa (AP) - After months of anticipation, a vision has come to fruition with Market on Market, the new and improved store that will allow Gowrie to once again shop locally for their most basic need: groceries.

With a solid month of elbow grease from new Manager Larry Roper, his wife Mary, and several dedicated volunteers, the old Jamboree Foods has once again become a potentially viable business - the first of its kind to rise back up after a domino-effect series of closures for Heartland Market stores in surrounding rural areas.

“We’ve gotten a lot done and saw a lot of success in the last five weeks,” said Tom Schill, board member of Gowrie Grocery LLC.

“This thing has been dragged in the dirt twice,” Larry Roper told the Fort Dodge Messenger, describing his first impression of the property’s former Jamboree Foods shell.

Now in Market on Market, they can see their reflection in the apples.

The new manager said that customers will immediately notice the fresh look as well as the fresh meat, produce and wider selection with competitive pricing.

“This town, what they want is good prices and fresh,” Roper said. “That’s their two main complaints with the previous store. We’ve already changed that.”

He said his pride in a “grand opening look every day” will keep the place looking fresh long after the soft opening today.

In addition to fresh paint, the store has repaired holes and structural damage, and cleaned floors, cases and shelves, some of which were left in bad shape. The liquor section has been moved to the front, with visually pleasing shelves.

Soon, broasted chicken will be back and more meat selection will be added as the deli and meat departments expand. Renovation on the area behind the wall in the center of the store will be complete within three to six months, the manager estimates, bringing with it more shelf space that will allow for greater variety of dry goods like detergent and paper products.

Seasonally, the store plans to procure fresh produce from local farmers.

“There’s going to be things that people have never seen in the store before,” he said, detailing more product selection, particularly in the frozen and dairy sections.

Larry is always looking forward,” Schill said. “We’re excited and fortunate he’s come to us.”

And even with the selection, the prices will be much cheaper than before. In many cases, item pricing was on par with the big chain stores in Fort Dodge.

“I’m a firm believer that a fast nickel is better than a slow dime,” Roper said. “Those dollars pay the bills. That’s how I was brought up.”

That lesson still holds true today, even as the landscape for grocery stores changes, Mary Roper said.

And for those worried about incoming competitor Dollar General, she said her husband’s experience can shore up the chances of success even more.

“My husband used to be a manager for them,” Mary Roper said. “He’s got their number.”

“I’ve gone up against the big boys,” Larry Roper said. “I know what they do, and I’ll go after their weaknesses.”

But what’s more is that in a landscape of rural grocery where many small towns have given up on hope in the viability of a for-profit business, the new manager and board are confident in their ability to succeed. As other food desert towns look for models that would allow them to break even in the new stores replacing the closed ones, Market on Market is planning to turn a profit.

Larry Roper boasts experience in a variety of large chain competitors and smaller independent stores, including one store where he turned double-digit losses into double-digit sales gains.

“This is (the community’s) store,” he said. “They wanted to keep their store, and they did.”

“It’s nice to see communities bond together and pick it back up,” Schill said.

It took a village, but a bold investment may soon pay dividends.

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