Since last December, grocery shoppers in Mitchell have had to drive nine miles to Scottsbluff, but that might change in the near future.
Mitchell’s only grocer, the Mitchell Food Pride, closed its doors at the end of November 2010. The operator said a major factor was that many Mitchell residents work in Scottsbluff and Gering, so they pick up groceries on their way home.
Soon, there may be an alternative. Some Mitchell residents have proposed the idea of opening a year-round cooperative food store, along the lines of the successful farmers’ markets around the area.
Chuck Karpf, entrepreneur coordinator with Panhandle Area Development District, has been working on an overall economic development project to include redeveloping the old city hall complex into a business incubator and artist cooperative space.
“One of the four original ideas in the project is to have a year-round farmers’ market,” Karpf said. “It would be for local food producers to have an outlet for their produce. When the grocery store closed, it became more important to move that to the front.”
A town hall meeting has been scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 28 at the Mitchell American Legion Hall to discuss the potential of a co-op grocery operation.
“I’ve had people from both Mitchell and Morrill contact me and say they’d be interested,” he said. “I think there’s definitely an interest and a need for it, but whether it would be supported is another issue.”
Karpf added that even if another grocery store located in Mitchell, a cooperative grocer would be viable for the community, based on the success of numerous farmers’ markets in both western Nebraska and eastern Wyoming.
“It won’t be on the same scale as a supermarket,” he said. “You won’t find 14 different kinds of cereal and 19 different kinds of coffee, but it will have food.”
He said that in rural Nebraska, cooperative arrangements have been successful in a variety of businesses, from cafes to bars to grocery stores. “The Wolf Den Market in Arthur, Neb. was started by a group of junior high kids in 2000 and it’s still going strong.”
Karpf said people need to always be looking for new ways to develop their communities because the old ways often no longer work, especially in small towns.
“A project like this doesn’t work unless the people in town support it,” he said. “It all depends on your community. And there are communities out there that will fail.”
Part of the problem, Karpf said, is that people often aren’t smart consumers. “People don’t think about how they spend their money. If you’re worried about your community, you’ll spend money there so they can take advantage of the sales tax rather than see it leave.”