New grant money has pushed a St. John Grocery one step closer to reality.

Another hurdle has been cleared on the path to getting a new grocery store in St. John.

Carolyn Dunn, executive director of Stafford County Economic Development, said they been approved for a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grant for $780,800 towards a new building that will house a combination grocery, deli, pharmacy and fuel island.

"The biggest pieces of the financial puzzle are nailed down," Dunn said. "There's still pieces to work through but we're well on our way."

The new building will be at the intersection of U.S. 281 and Fifth Street. The next step in getting the building will be finalizing the commitment with the contractor J.A. Knight in Sons from Pratt. This will include getting bids, finalizing construction plans and cost, hiring subcontractors (some will be local) and breaking ground. Exactly when the ground breaking will take place has not been set at this time.

The former Dillons store closed in February 2015 forcing residents to travel outside of town for groceries. A market feasibility study was done in 2016 to determine the future of a grocery store in St. John. That feasibility study revealed it would be better to construct a new building than refit the old Dillons store.

Even if the old Dillons building was available, free of charge, it would not be able to pay the employees and make a profit. The decision was made to build a new store that would include the grocery plus a deli, pharmacy and fuel center.

"It will take all this activity to make this a successful venture," Dunn said.

The study also revealed revealed building a new grocery store in St. John would require a public and private partnership to make it work, Dunn said.

Economic Development worked up a letter of intent with White's Foodliner. If a plan could be worked out to fit their needs, they would come to St. John.

The most intense part of this process has occurred in 2017. Corporate contributions to buy the land came in the spring. The grant application was due in July and Economic Development has just found out they have received the grant.

Stafford County Economic Development will own the property while White's Food Liner will lease and operate the business.

Right now, people are traveling out of St. John for all the services that will be available at the new grocery store. It's estimated 65 percent of the residents are are going out of town to get fuel, Dunn said.

When the store becomes a reality, it is predicted that it will require 30 employees for the grocery and fuel center and three to work the pharmacy. These will be full and part time positions.

The store will offer purchase incentives that can be applied towards fuel purchases. The fuel island will have three pumps with six fueling positions.

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