Effort afoot to avoid becoming a ‘food desert’

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May 5, 2017 - 12:00 AM

MORAN — Here’s the dilemma: Stub’s Market is for sale and there is no assurance that it will remain open. A good share of Moran’s residents are elderly and would find it a burden to travel  elsewhere for groceries. The closest full-service groceries are in Iola, a round trip of about 30 miles, and Fort Scott, at least 10 miles farther.
Spur-of-the-moment needs would go unmet.
“If Nelda is baking cookies and she needs eggs, I can run to Stub’s and get a dozen,” Larry Manes mentioned. “Without it, I’d have to drive to Iola,” or pass on fresh-baked cookies.

ON WEDNESDAY, a delegation of Moran and Thrive Allen County folks drove to St. Paul to see what that community did 10 years ago to have a grocery.
“We had had grocery stores, but not for several years,” said City Clerk Jeri Heitman.
In 2007, voters approved a proposal for the St. Paul Community Development Corporation to borrow $400,000 from Heartland Electric, an aside the power company does to help communities it serves.
The loan, co-signed by city council members, paid for construction of the store on land owned by the city. Before the vote, it was impressed on citizens that if the store failed, remaining debt would be on their backs. Moran, population 530, and St. Paul, 610, are of comparable size.
In January 2018, the loan will be paid off and five months later, in June, the store will celebrate its 10th anniversary as the flagship retail enterprise in St. Paul.
 At the start, Jay and Jo Renfro, experienced grocers, moved from Altamont to manage and stock the store. They had a personal motive — their grandchildren lived in St. Paul.
When the Renfros decided to retire about four years ago, the city stepped in and purchased their interest and made James and Kelly Voorhies managers in September 2013.
Kelly was a familiar face, having worked at the store since its first day. James, 33, had a grocery pedigree, having started his work experience at a grocery in Fredonia at age 16. He worked for Coca-Cola before taking managerial reins at St. Paul.
The Voorhieses made a few changes to enhance profitability.
“We cut back on inventory, from $150,000 to $100,000,” dropping things that seldom sold, James said.
The Voorhieses also noticed their older customers had trouble reaching items. “We quit stocking the top shelves to keep everything within easy reach,” he said. “The aisles also are wide and don’t have clutter. We listen to people and do what works for them.”
The store features fresh meat cut on site and has a small deli, which on Wednesday had generously loaded French dip sandwiches.

THE MORAN grocery has been a fixture since the mid-1970s.
“We’ve owned it for 21 years,” said David Mahurin, of he and wife Shirlene.
“It’s been for sale for 20 years,” he added with a chuckle. “Really, we’ve had it on the market for better than a year. We had it sold once — we thought — but the guy didn’t make it.”
Mahurin said they had no intention of closing the store, at least not soon, but “we do want to sell it. We have the Erie store (12 years) and we’re getting where we want to slow down. We live out in the bushes by Erie, and I’ve got cattle to take care of. I’ll be 68 in June. We have six grandchildren and it’s time to stay closer to home and play with the grandkids.”
Asking price for the Moran store began at $300,000. Now the Mahurins would take $50,000 less.
“It’s a good little store and I hope the people in Moran can work out something,” he said.

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