I recently had a chance to meet with people from Hanley Falls in Southwest Minnesota and discuss their retail market. The group is interested in learning finding a way to have a small grocery and general supply store in the community. It can be challenging in small communities to support such a store, so the group has been working hard to get creative.
The West Central Regional Sustainable Development Partnership heard about the goals of the group and decided to connect them to the resources on the Community Economics team. I met with the team in April and asked them to describe where people might reasonably drive from on the coldest day in winter. The maps the group created where then used a representation for their market. The group decided on a 10 mile ring around town with a section of the ring cut off near Granite Falls. They believe, as do I, that potential consumers wouldn't likely head west to Hanley from Granite Falls.
Armed with information about the market and a verified business list. Ryan was able to generate a report on the demographics, earning potential, and profile of the consumers in the Hanley Falls trade area. Ryan uses a program called GIS to make all of this happen. The way I understand all of this is to think of a frozen lake. That lake represents some geography. As with all frozen lakes there are layers of ice. If you want to catch a fish on a frozen lake you bring an ice auger and something to clean the hole out. Ryan's GIS work is similar to this. He can take a geography and use a tool to cut a hole through layers of data. Then he can pull everything that was in that hole out and inspect it. This is what he did in Hanley.
In the presentation with the group we talked about the different ways this data could be used. They mentioned adding different products, store hours and prices as all big concerns. The discussion told me that the group was taking the information in and considering how it could be helpful.
At the end of the evening, we discussed what could realistically be done to get a retail space started in the community. My personal opinion is that it doesn't have to be a grand or expensive enterprise. They began to consider starting a non-profit, starting a co-op, and finding some unused space in town to work with.
I don't think the need for small town grocery store is unrealistic to any town, so I understand the drive for such a basic necessity. I know others are interested in something similiar, but I don't have great Minnesota examples to share.
Have you seen a successful way to solve the difficulty of retail and grocery availability in our smallest communities? Let me know in the comments.