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Bayard residents discuss grocery store’s imminent closure

Bayard residents discuss grocery store’s imminent closure

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As panicked Americans cleared supermarkets of toilet paper and food last spring, grocery employees gained recognition as among the most indispensable of the pandemic's front-line workers.

The residents of Bayard are faced with a dilemma: What to do about Bayard Grocery.

Bayard Grocery, whose owner announced he would retire earlier this year, is set to close on March 5, leaving residents with no local options for fresh groceries. Instead, able residents will have to travel to Bridgeport or Scottsbluff for fresh food.

The business model a possible new grocery store in Bayard could take remains unclear. However, community organizers said that Bayard residents expressed strong interest and desire for a new grocery supplier in the small town.

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To minimize the negative consequences of losing a grocery store, several community organizations have come together to get Bayard a new grocery supplier. To that end, Twin City Development hosted a community gathering on Monday to discuss the problem and possible solutions.

“I would say (the community meeting) was a success,”Michelle Coolidge, community development director for TCD, told the Star-Herald. “The turnout and the interaction with the group, I think, was very positive. It’s encouraging to know that the community would like us to move forward with the process.”

Coolidge said the purpose was to communicate the survey results that TCD conducted in conjunction with other community partners like the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Cindy Houlden, a cooperative business development specialist with UNL, presented the survey results.

“We don’t know everything, we didn’t learn everything, we didn’t hear from 100% of (Bayard) residents," Houlden said. “But we did hear from 207 (Bayard residents). That’s a pretty significant number for us.”

Bayard has about 1,000 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It also has about a median household income of $41,711 and 440 households.

“That makes that 207 response rate very significant,” Houlden said, who added that the vast majority of respondents said they lived in the Bayard-area. “It represents a large number of persons.”

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Houlden also presented data from the U.S. Census Bureau that said about 10% of Bayard’s population live at or below the poverty line. That’s compared to 4.6% in neighboring Bridgeport.

Nearly all the respondents, 93%, said that it was important for Bayard to have a grocery store. Respondents also said 71% of respondents spent between $50 and $150 per week on groceries.

“Nothing surprising here,” Houlden said.

Additionally, the survey said locally-produced meat and produce were the most important items for a new grocery store. The survey also found that a deli, a bakery and seasonal products were important to the community.

“In other words, (Bayard residents) want a full-service grocery store,” Houlden said.

Houlden said this data matters to whoever takes Bayard Grocery’s place because grocery stores on average have slim profit margins, often between 1% and 3%.

“It’s a tight market. You don’t make a lot of money running a grocery store,” she said.

Houlden also presented data from the USDA that suggested Americans are eating out more than eating in. That means they’re spending less at grocery stores and more at restaurants.

The data suggested that grocery stores took an additional hit over the last three decades, as Americans chose to shop at supercenters like Walmart instead of local stores. Convenience stores, dollar stores and online grocery services have also cut into the traditional grocery store business.

The change in consumer behavior and increase in competition has shattered the traditional grocery store’s control on the market. In 2017, traditional grocery stores controlled just 44% of the market, according to the USDA. Back in 1988, they controlled 90% of the market.

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Of course, the USDA collected that data before the coronavirus pandemic wrecked the restaurant industry and forced consumers into grocery stores to eat at home.

“It’s going to be interesting to see what COVID-19 did (to the eating out trend),” Houlden said.

It is still unclear what business model a new store might follow. Houlden said that it was still possible for a private person, a group of people, or another business to come in and purchase the store outright.

There were also several community-sponsored options on the table. Houlden said that a cooperative was possible. She said that it’s also possible for the City of Bayard or a non-profit to purchase and lease the building to someone, covering some operating costs.

“When we talk about a community-owned grocery store, the exciting thing is that it helps preserve a community’s local character,” Houlden said.

Houlden said community-owned options give the community members more stake in their community. It also keeps the money in the community, she said.

“It’s your tax dollars at work. It’s your store and you own it,” she said.

But that’s all still in the future. For now, Coolidge said the process for getting a new store up and running is in motion.

“There are a couple of different options to go at,” Coolidge said. “The next step is to put together a steering committee that will then start taking the steps of doing that evaluation of what is the best model for the community.”

So far, Coolidge said that 33 people indicated in the survey that they were willing or interested in joining a steering committee “which is entirely too large in number to be effective,” Coolidge said.

She said people interested in joining the committee can reach out to the City of Bayard.

Despite the momentum from the meeting, Bayard Grocery is still closing on March 5.

For Wendy Buxbaum, daughter of the store’s owner, the community support is wonderful.

“We would like for a grocery store to stay here in town. We think it’s wonderful that we have so many people behind it.”

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