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Shoppers flock to final sales as Iron Range town's only grocery closes

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They're making their final trip to the grocery store in Aurora.

Of course, residents will still go to grocery stores – but after Wednesday that will mean traveling to a neighboring town.

As Zup's Market holds its going out of business sale, it's drawing crowds to its last hurrah. One shopper told the News Tribune he spent 15 minutes filling his cart and two hours waiting in the checkout line.

Zup's announced last month that the Aurora store would close, citing pressure from the Wal Mart that opened in Mountain Iron a couple years ago and the trend toward convenience stores selling more grocery items.

The Zupanchich family has a century's worth of experience operating northeastern Minnesota grocery stores. Their website says "Grandpa" John purchased the flagship store in Ely in 1916. They also have stores in Babbitt, Tower, Silver Bay, and Cook.

Part of the social fabric

There's been more awareness recently of the importance of grocery stores to small towns, even beyond the food they sell.

As they waited in line in Aurora, shoppers Judy Holtz and Jan Brown told the News Tribune that running into neighbors at Zup's and visiting with them was common.

The Center for Rural Affairs calls a grocery store a necessity for any vibrant town ("People look for a grocery store when deciding where to live, and residents will be more likely to stay in your town with a grocery store close by.") and offers eight tips to help small towns keep or regain stores.

According to the Center for Rural Policy and Development, Greater Minnesota lost 14 percent of its grocery stores from 2000 through 2013.

Recent efforts to reverse the trend include a Kickstarter campaign that helped save the market in Clinton, Minnesota (population 450) and a donation by anonymous investors to pay for construction of a market in Clara City (population 1,360).

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