Should Legislators Address Vanishing Rural Supermarkets?

With more grocery stores in rural areas closing, state lawmakers consider stepping into the gap.

October 08, 2019

DRAKE, N.D.—Some states are stepping in when rural areas lose their grocery stores, Stateline reports.

“When you have a small rural town and the grocery store dies, the town dries up and it just blows away,” said Nancy McCloud, who took over a market in her hometown of Mountair, New Mexico, when it closed two years ago. “There are six towns east of here—they just lost the grocery store, then they lost the gas station, and then they lost the bank and now they’re nothing.”

In North Dakota, legislators created a panel to study food distribution and transportation in rural areas as the number of grocery stores serving those areas are in sharp decline. “One of the things we’re trying to decide is, are there state resources that are currently in place that could be of some value, whether it’s storage or transportation or things like that,” said state Sen. Jim Dotzenrod, who is on the committee. “It may be when we’re done with this, we’ll have to say we don’t have a solution at hand. But I’m hoping that we can come up with some ideas that will help.”

In New Mexico, lawmakers are working with the governor on finding solutions to the challenges faced by rural grocers. “If states are going to have economic incentives, whether they’re loans, grants, deductions, I believe rural grocery stores need to be right there at the top of the list,” said state Sen. Liz Stefanics. “It’s not just about bringing in big companies from out of state to set up jobs, it’s also to encourage the economy within these small communities.”

Other states already have laws on the books that offer assistance to rural grocers. For example, Alabama gives low-interest state grants to new or current supermarkets in food deserts, while Oklahoma has a revolving fund for food retailers in rural areas who want to renovate, expand or construct a store.