Rural grocery stores to receive $1M grant

ARTHUR, N.D. (KVRR) — A new grant program will hand out cash to grocery stores across rural North Dakota towns to increase food access.

The new grant program is part of a North Dakota Senate bill which passed in April that allocates one million dollars to preserve rural grocery stores.

The North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives started a pilot program in three Walsh County towns where stores order together from the same wholesale supplier using separate accounts.

They found that no matter how far customers traveled, they were willing to buy more.

“What we learned in Hoople, that’s one of the towns in the pilot project, by bringing the wholesale cost down and improving variety, people are now purchasing larger carts of groceries at their local store and their volume has increased significantly, their sales volume. We’re asking people to work together, where they traditionally don’t, in order to bring the cost down for all of the people that live there. It’s not a business structure that’s going to bring profits to any particular business, it’s going to bring healthy food to the people that live there,” said Lori Capouch.

Marybeth Engelke, the owner of Arthur’s only grocer, says if she were to get the state grant, she would focus on updating equipment to make shopping a better experience for customers.

She’s confident her store will not close down anytime soon because there are always people driving by.

“Maybe you can’t utilize your entire food budget with us but if you put a portion of that budget, we will continue to be here and that’s what matters most to small-town America; if you can do what you can to support those businesses instead of panicking when they say they have to close.”

The NDAREC also began a locker distribution system in Fordville and Park River where people will get alerts when the groceries they ordered online are delivered to their respective lockers.

“In our opinion, one of the biggest challenges was that distribution piece. We’re such a sparsely populated state. Two-thirds of our state has less than six people per square mile. So, if you’re in a community without a grocery store, you could place that order, still locally, to the nearest store for your grocery. That store fulfills your orders,” Capouch said.

The initial pilot program’s grant was from the Bush Foundation and Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Caring Foundation.

Some businesses in Walsh County also donated to keep the program going.

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