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Anonymous investors pitch in to give rural MN city a new grocery store

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Grocery stores are considered the lifeblood of Minnesota's rural towns, crucial to their economic prosperity and their attempts to attract new, younger residents.

A group of community boosters in Clara City, population 1,360, recognize this, and they are providing the investment needed to build a new, modern grocery store in their hometown.

The West Central Tribune reports that the City has persuaded Brett and Danielle Almich – owners of Almich's Market in nearby Granite Falls – to open a new 8,500 square-foot store this spring, adjacent to the grocery store that currently serves the town, Rhode's Market, which will be razed.

The construction of the new Almich's Market has been made possible by an anonymous group of seven or eight investors – dubbed "The Clara City Boosters" – who have put up the cash to pay for a development seen as crucial to the City's "revitalization effort" led by its economic development agency, the newspaper notes.

"No individual grocer would be able to go in there and build a building, purchase the fixtures and inventory and make a living at it. The debt would be too high," Brett Almich is quoted as saying.

The efforts in Clara City are similar to those made by residents of Clinton, Minnesota – population 450 – earlier this year.

The Star Tribune reported that when the city's local store, Bonnie's Hometown Grocery, needed a new freezer but couldn't afford it, over 75 of the city's residents pitched in to raise $18,000 through Kickstarter to buy a new one and effectively save their local grocery.

The struggles of small town grocery stores

Minnesota's Center for Rural Development and Policy has highlighted the role that grocery stores serve in the state's smaller cities, noting they are not just a quick way to buy food, but also a "community hub" where people gather between home and work.

The center says that because of population changes seen between 2000 and 2013 – as more and more people gravitated toward larger metro areas – Greater Minnesota lost 14 percent of its grocery stores.

The center notes that it's more difficult to make smaller stores financially successful, as they can't offer the same low prices as big box retailers in larger centers and their costs are proportionally higher. There's been a growing trend of people shopping in these bigger stores on the way home from work, which tends to be in these larger centers.

University of Minnesota extension educator Ryan Pesch told MPR last year that grocery stores in towns of 700 people or fewer "often function at the edge of bankruptcy."

The news organization notes that small town grocery store representatives met last year in Granite Falls to discuss how to make these stores more successful by improving their access to fresh produce.

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