Saving the small-town grocery store (5 x 8 – 10/29/13)

1) THE DISAPPEARING RURAL GROCERY

clinton_mn_1.jpg

“In the past few days Kerkhoven, MN (nearly twice the size of Clinton) lost its grocery store,” Kathryn Draeger writes today on her blog, Resettling Big Stone County. “That loss means one less place to practically purchase good food to nurture our families but also the loss of a community gathering place and outlet for locally grown food.”

“Once a town loses its grocery store it is very difficult or impossible to find the people and the financial backing to run such a low margin enterprise. In this day and age, having a rural grocery store in your small town requires support from the whole community.”

But, of course, they’re not getting support from the whole community. They’re heading for the megagroceries.

She writes that Bonnie’s Hometown Grocery in Clinton is holding a fundraiser tomorrow. That’s Bonnie’s on the right in the picture above, which I took on my visit to Clinton in April.

From the archive:
Death of the small-town grocery.

More business: On the heels of controversies over whether stores should open on Thanksgiving comes another trend: Staying open later on Christmas Eve, KARE 11’s Boyd Huppert says.

The Albertville Outlet mall has notified tenants that they have to stay open until 8 p.m. It’s not a big deal for shopper who don’t want to shop on Christmas Eve, but employees don’t get much of a choice.

The manager of one store has chosen to work so other managers in the store won’t have to. But he acknowledges he’ll get home past his kids’ bedtime.

The mall says there are fewer “shopping days” this year between Thanksgiving and Christmas and the action is necessary.

2) THE ENDLESS DEBATE ENDS

We are now 237 years into the experiment called the United States and if you want to get people riled up, you’ll call it a democracy.

Why just last week, for example, the post about the Minnesota teacher of the year featured “corrections” in the comments section that the U.S. is not a democracy and if you don’t know that, you ought not be teaching, commenters suggested. It tends to be the government version of correcting spelling mistakes and comes down to a question of whether you’re in 1776 or 2013.

Ilya Somin, professor of law at George Mason University, writing on The Volokh Conspiracy, unsurprisingly, says the dispute over terms is meant only to distract from more substantive debate.

People who insist on a sharp distinction between “republic” and “democracy” may simply dislike modern usage and prefer a return to that of several hundred years ago. But if so, they should not claim – as they often do – that those who use the words in their modern sense are ignorant or incorrect. In this case, as in most others, correctness is determined primarily by usage rather than some “objective” definition of linguistic propriety. As used by most English-speakers today, “republic” and “democracy” are largely interchangeable terms.

Moreover, the whole republic vs. democracy debate is a rhetorical distraction from the substantive point that should really concern us: what constraints should there be on the power of voters and the officials they elect? That issue cannot be resolved by claiming that we are a “republic” rather than “democracy.” Even if there is a substantive distinction between the two and the United States is clearly a republic rather than a democracy, that says nothing about whether the constraints we currently impose on majoritarian institutions are too strong, too weak, or roughly correct.

3) A BROKEN PROMISE

The new health insurance law may well end up providing a decent product to people who need it, but the latest leak from the White House introduces a familiar question: What did the president know and when did he know it.

NBC News is reporting that when President Obama regularly said during stump speeches that people who were happy with their present health insurance could keep it, he knew it wasn’t true. Thousands of people are now losing their insurance as companies cancel them in favor of “ACA-compliant” insurance.

Buried in Obamacare regulations from July 2010 is an estimate that because of normal turnover in the individual insurance market, “40 to 67 percent” of customers will not be able to keep their policy. And because many policies will have been changed since the key date, “the percentage of individual market policies losing grandfather status in a given year exceeds the 40 to 67 percent range.”

That means the administration knew that more than 40 to 67 percent of those in the individual market would not be able to keep their plans, even if they liked them.

Yet President Obama, who had promised in 2009, “if you like your health plan, you will be able to keep your health plan,” was still saying in 2012, “If [you] already have health insurance, you will keep your health insurance.”

“This says that when they made the promise, they knew half the people in this market outright couldn’t keep what they had and then they wrote the rules so that others couldn’t make it either,” said Robert Laszewski, of Health Policy and Strategy Associates, a consultant who works for health industry firms. Laszewski estimates that 80 percent of those in the individual market will not be able to keep their current policies and will have to buy insurance that meets requirements of the new law, which generally requires a richer package of benefits than most policies today.

Related: Can The Affordable Care Act Reverse The Long Standing Trend In Uncompensated Care In Emergency Departments? (Chicago Tribune)

MNsure Latino outreach events get a late start (Minnesota Public Radio News).

4) SHOULD LGBT RENTERS BE A PROTECTED CLASS?

Should landlords in Fargo be required to rent to LGBT tenants? The Fargo City Commissioners yesterday passed a resolution saying that the city “encourages tolerance and acceptance of all citizens, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression,” the Fargo Forum reports.

Without state legislation, there isn’t much enforceable value to it but some residents want gay, lesbian and transgender residents to be “protected classes” when it comes to housing issues. That’s what Grand Forks did recently.

“There are many of us here who are in support of existing housing laws and think they are just fine,” Brad Friesen, who owns rental property in West Fargo, said. “We support heterosexual standards and traditional family structures that have been the basis of strong society since the beginning of time.”

5) FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF IT TAKES A VILLAGE

A single mother “going through a messy divorce while trying to take care of four-year-old daughter with bullying tendencies, a six-year-old son with Asperger’s and ADHD, and a college student who was forced to take a year off from school” is not the type of person who usually gets a break from your run-of-the-mill stranger.

Last week, Gawker reports, the woman apologized in advance when she and her brood sat in a booth next to him at a restaurant in North Carolina. Her son’s medication had worn off, she said.

When she was ready to leave, the server said there’d be no charge, and handed her a note:

I do not know your back story, but I have had the privilege of watching you parent your children for the past 30 minutes. I have to say thank you for parenting your children in such a loving manner.

I have watched you teach your children about the importance of respect, education, proper manners, communication, self control, and kindness all while being very patient. I will never cross your path again but am positive that you and your children have amazing futures.

Keep up the good work and when it starts to get tough do not forget that others may be watching and will need the encouragement of seeing a good family being raised. God bless! -Jake.

More here.

(h/t: Tom Anderson)

Bonus I: Welcome to “let’s steal some kid’s pumpkin” week.

Bonus II: Soldier Surprises Daughter At School.

Bonus III: Pianist Maria João Pires panics as she realizes the orchestra has started the wrong concerto (Telegraph).

TODAY’S QUESTION
Who has the right to know where your phone has been?

WHAT WE’RE DOING

Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: The climate change’s impact on low-income communities and how the country can work with them to build resiliency to better handle the blow of extreme weather events from floods to heat waves.

Second hour: Online voter registration in Minnesota.

Third hour: Former Granta editor John Freeman has an interview history that could make the most experienced journalism jealous. Over the past 13 years, he’s talked with everyone from Normal Mailer to Toni Morrison, and his latest book, “How to Read a Novelist,” is a collection of the 55 best profiles. In his interview, Freeman and his subjects discuss writing, reading and what it’s like to have conversations with your literary heroes.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): Ken Roth, the director of Human Rights Watch. He spoke recently at the University of Minnesota.

The Takeaway (1-2 p.m.) – In the wake of Super Storm Sandy, President Obama appointed Shaun Donovan, his Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, to lead the federal response. Secretary Donovan examines Sandy’s impact, and discusses the state of the recovery effort

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – Some product reviews on Amazon are written by customers. But others are written by a little-known group of super reviewers. They receive products for free as part of Amazon’s Vine program. What’s behind the
Vine and who’s in it? NPR will have the story.

Enbridge Energy is taking the next formal step toward building a $2.5 billion pipeline across northern Minnesota, to carry oil from North Dakota’s booming Bakken fields to its terminal in Superior, Wisconsin. The route the company prefers would cross prime farmland in Carlton County, south of Duluth and Cloquet, home to a burgeoning local agriculture movement. Landowners there are fighting the proposal. They say the company should opt for a less intrusive northerly route. Enbridge wants the pipeline to help relieve the growing bottleneck of crude oil leaving North Dakota. The company is also pushing for an expanded pipeline called the Alberta Clipper to carry Canadian tar sands oil through Minnesota. Enbridge is looking to spend around $4 billion in the next few years in the Upper Midwest alone to transport more and more oil from the region. MPR’s Dan Kraker will report the story.

  • TJ Swift

    “dispute over terms is meant only to distract from more substantive debate.”

    A deep love of substantive debate is, no doubt, why leftists have turned the meaning of such terms as “bullying”; “hate”; “victim”; “bigot”; “immigrant”, even “male” & “female” inside out.

    Perhaps author David Kupelian said it best: “we simply have to understand the language the elite are speaking to each other – and to us. Not to understand it is to adopt it, assimilate it, and unwittingly participate in the transformation of America into a place the Founding Fathers wouldn’t even begin to recognize.”

    Disregarding the very basis upon which this country was built is sure to only enrich our debate to death.

    • Pretty sure you didn’t read the piece. It was a pretty intellectual approach to the question.

      • TJ Swift

        They always are, aren’t they Bob?

  • John O.

    Ms. Draeger pretty much nails it. The same goes for independently-owned pharmacies. The family-owned pharmacy that my Dad worked at as a pharmacist in his younger years (he’s retired now) is long gone. So are the other independent pharmacies in my hometown. When the patient has to drive to another town to get their medications, it often adversely affects the local doctors and dentists as well.

  • jon

    @#2) People who insist we are a republic not a democracy are the same people who insist that a thumb is not a finger…
    We are a republic, We are also a democracy.
    We are not a direct democracy, that would be tedious.
    We are a indirect, or representative democracy.
    We are also a republic.
    Our officials are elected, that is democracy.

  • Chuck

    Bonus 3, panicked pianist: Wow, when the orchestra began playing a piece for which the solo pianist was unprepared, she must have been praying to wake up from the nightmare–but of course she couldn’t. My stomach clenched just watching that woman’s reaction, knowing all too well exactly how she felt.

  • KTN

    I have been watching the small grocery store nearest our cabin slowly shrinking inventory over the summer, with what I can only assume is to make closing easier. The next closest store is 17 miles south, or Superior 30 miles north. Sad to see the demise of these community assets. At least the Dairy Queen is still open – when that closes I’m not sure what we will do.

  • The small town grocery back home is still going strong, while most of the other businesses closed up. I think the main reason is they competed on something other than price. Convenience and service. They didn’t try to compete on price or selection. And offered additional services, like a fantastic butcher. The businesses that closed were the ones complaining that no one shopped there.

    I’m clearly not able know if that’s what is happening to Bonnie’s, as I’ve never been there. But I take any business complaining about how no one local shops there with a grain of salt.

    But I also know that living in a small town doesn’t generally come with a boatload of extra income, which makes people even more price sensitive. It’s a double edged sword. Hard to compete in a low margin business when the people who are trying to save it are only shopping the sales.

    • I’ve never seen any indication that Bonnie’s is complaining no one shops there.

      BTW there’s another cool grocery store (in addition to Glen’s in Luverne) in Montevideo — Bill’s. all of these stores seem to have a common theme — they support their community too. That’s valuable in communities that actually ARE communities. Not so much in the cities, of course, where cities are trying to phony up their streets to look like “Main St” in the belief that it will instill a sense of community.

      I think you either have it or you don’t.

  • Kassie

    I always thought business are open lateish on Christmas Eve. In 1995 I worked until at least 8pm at Toys R Us on Christmas Eve. I think that is a lot different than the argument about when shops open on Thanksgiving.

  • LeslieW

    Some communities are exploring conversion to cooperative ownership as a way to save their community grocery stores. (It can work whether the store sells conventional products, organic/natural, or both.) It’s hard work, and takes collective investment and commitment, but it can be worth it for quality of life in a small town. Food Co-op Initiative just published a couple of case studies on it: http://www.foodcoopinitiative.coop/content/co-op-conversion-case-study

    • I believe Bonnie’s also sells a lot of products from local businesses — small businesses and farmers, that the big supermarket doesn’t sell.

  • TJ Swift

    It’s odd that no one wants to comment on the awkward disclosure of Obama’s latest “broken promise”.
    Perhaps it’s just not news.

    • MrE85

      What would you have us say, Tom?

      • TJ Swift

        Oh, I dunno, Bob.
        Maybe an expression of disappointment in the complete failure of “the most transparent administration” ever. Maybe a politely worded request from Democrat legislators that knew the “promises” Obama was making were just false as Obama did.
        Maybe a politely worded request that *someone* from the administration tell the truth, even belatedly, about the largest foray into social engineering since the New Deal.
        But then again, I guess “It’s not news” is just as valid.

      • TJ Swift

        “request [for an explanation] from Democrat legislators”