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Photo by Katie Pinke

Rural America seeks entrepreneurial desire

WISHEK, N.D. — At the end of the year, the grocery store in Aneta, N.D., population 250, will close. While there are grocery stores in communities 15 to 30 miles down the road, a Target and two Walmart stores 60 miles away, the thought of no more little grocery store with two aisles pangs my heart.

Not only is the grocery store closing, but so is the meat market. Both long-standing businesses along Main Street hold decades of fond memories for me, just as I'm sure you can close your eyes and picture a business or two that transforms you back to yesteryear and stirs similar emotions.

I think of the decades of harvest and holiday meals planned around what the grocery store in Aneta had in stock or what could be ordered. My mom and grandma are meticulous cooks — and 90 percent of their food purchases occur in Aneta, with an occasional trip to a larger town for bulk purchases.

What happens when your one-and-only grocery store closes?

I stopped in just before Christmas to see Susan, the owner. Most people don't think about the impact of small-town businesses closing, Susan said. I gave her my best smile, but deep inside we both knew the ripple effect of the grocery store closing will hurt for some time, as residents have less access to fresh meat, milk, bread, fruits and vegetables and canned goods.

Sure, my mom can drive up to an hour to get her groceries but, as I shared with Susan, it's not as easy for the elderly, like my grandma.

"That's hardest on me," Susan said. "They've been so loyal to me."

I understand why Susan has to turn the page to a new chapter in her life. But my small-town girl heart breaks when a locally owned business closes.

Susan has been trying to sell her grocery store for the past four years. While younger generations might have the entrepreneurial desire, often their perception of what it takes to run a successful business and willingness to put forth the effort and sacrifice is lacking.

If it weren't for my husband's willingness to trade in his corporate career to run a small-town business and live in rural America, I don't know if we would have had a next generation to run our lumberyard. My husband's skillset was fostered by his parents' example, FFA experiences in high school, his college education and career sales experience for a large corporation.

Can we build up a next generation to invest in small businesses and our communities? We have to, or we'll not only lose our tax base but also our vitality. The kids who call rural America home need opportunities to learn from local businesses.

Feeding your family locally starts with purchasing food as local as possible. Can you keep a little more of your money local in 2017? Can your example quietly lead others to do the same? Let's try, together.

I have the utmost gratitude and respect for Susan and everyone like her in rural America. We can each do our part to keep our communities vibrant. Thank you, Susan, for meeting the needs of many for decades with your small business. I'm one of the many who learned from your example.

Editor's note: Pinke is the Agweek general manager and publisher. She can be reached at kpinke@agweek.com.

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