After 10 years without an independent grocery store, the residents of Iola, Kansas, found a way to bring one back.
For two months in 2012, longtime Iola, Kansas, resident Mary Ross trudged through the sweltering heat, waving gnats from her view as she walked door to door with a petition. It was the hottest summer since moving there with her family about 30 years ago, but Ross was determined to gather signatures requesting a grocery store be established in the small rural town of fewer than 6,000 people.
Iola had lost its last independent grocery store four years earlier, shortly after the Wal-mart Supercenter—with its own expansive aisles—came to town and drove out all of the competition.
“I live in a small town. That was my choice,” she says. But since Iola’s three smaller grocery stores went out of business, she has to drive 8 to 20 miles to find healthy food choices and the specific ingredients for her home-cooked meals.
“It’s like they’re trying to kill this small town,” she lamented. But the 800 signatures she gathered worked.
In October, Iola’s first grocery store in nearly a decade broke ground, thanks to a unique public-private partnership. Allen County agreed to sell property for it at a steep discount to G&W Foods Inc., a Missouri-based chain with stores scattered throughout the region.
“Basically, our community said that having a supermarket on this site is a priority, and we’re willing to put some skin in the game,” says David Toland, executive director of Thrive Allen County, a health and wellness center…