Manson pioneers nonprofit grocery model
6 Nov 2020
A mirage on the horizon materialized Thursday as Manson reopened its only grocery store, bringing life back to Calhoun County as it emerged from the grips of a growing food desert in rural Iowa.
Nearly a year after the small Heartland Market chain closed locations in Manson and Rockwell City, Manson Hometown Grocery bounced back with a non-profit model that will try its luck in the town of under 2,000.
“(A year ago) I didn’t know what ‘food desert’ meant,” said Dave Anderson, mayor of Manson.
But as he watched the volume of traffic and cartfuls of food file in and out of the small store’s humble front doors, he realized just how starved for local grocery options Manson had become.
“I believe it now,” he said after washing the dusty windows. “The people in this area got a chance to miss their grocery store. Now they’re really happy that it’s back.”
Though Manson didn’t quite reach its initial $200,000 fundraising goal, the more than $180,000 it did raise was sufficient to bring the vision to life: a non-profit model built by the community for the community.
“Knowing that the community got together to do this, we want to make sure we’re behind the community, making this work and doing what we have to do to keep the doors open,” said co-manager Jessica Teague. “We’re all about community here.”
With former experience at nearly every other relevant retail chain in the area — Walmart, Target, Casey’s General Store and Dollar General — she believed the new team of nine employees and the grocery store’s volunteer board of directors had the knowledge they needed to make the effort a success, even up against formidable chains like Dollar General that Nick Graham, the owner of Manson’s last store, blamed for much of its demise.
“We have that knowledge (of) the Dollar General, so we’re going to bring it here and make it work better,” Teague said.
With a bright new interior and more improvements planned, Manson Hometown Grocery boasts higher quality, fresh produce and meats alongside a variety of other products that make the location an efficient “one stop shop” for anyone in town. Eventually, the store plans to add a deli, fresh meat counter and prepared convenience items like salads.