Rural grocery stores face big challenges

Not only do they have to deal with a small customer base, but it's also difficult to get food deliveries.

That food distribution dilemma has claimed 15 percent of small stores in the last 5 years.

Representatives from nutrition programs, food distributors, and concerned citizens met at the Capitol to discuss possible solutions to a growing problem.

In the Roughrider Room at the Capitol, legislators heard the grievances and concerns for small grocery stores and communities. Leaders paint a harsh picture.

Lori: "Managers go without pay; volunteers help unload trucks and stock shelves; and there are store fundraisers and out right donations. There are typically no health benefits or 401(k) accounts for the employees," said Lori Capouch, Rural Development Director.

A host of factors play into this one meeting. The limited number of major food distributors for stores; just one in Bismarck. The increasing number of people needing to drive more than 10 miles for the nearest grocery store. And the impact on a community if a store fails.

"The serious part about it, once a store in a rural area, if it completely shuts down, you almost need the community or your local government to step in and say 'hey, we can't be without a grocery store," Senator Shawn Vedaa said.

During the presentations to the Commerce Committee, one proposed plan was to create one larger distribution center for the individual stores; bringing down costs for the stores and stabilizing food shipments.

"Well I think it's gonna come down to pairing up. You're gonna have to have that larger end of the small town grocery store and the smaller end of a small town grocery store coming together," Vedaa said.

Leaders looking for options, while consumers continue to travel for food.

Another option considered was reaching out the post office to help coordinate food distribution to the smaller areas.

But throughout the meeting, one thing was clear: legislators think the government should play a role, but very few want to see it in the grocery business.