Over 100 residents attend town hall meeting on closing of the town's only grocery store when Dillons closed on Feb. 6.
Kroger, the parent company of Dillons notified St. John city officials, Friday that they would be closing the Dillons Store located on Fourth Street in St. John on Saturday Feb. 6.
Mayor Juliann Owens said she was disgusted by the short notice with the store closing only two weeks away.
“This is going to be a tough blow to the community,” Owens said. “Especially to some of our older residents who rely that store a lot.”
Along with the older residents the closing will have a large effect on younger adults as well.
“It will have an effect on our students as Dillon's is a great place for young people to gain work experience,” said USD 350 Superintendent Josh Meyer. “I sure hate to see us lose a local grocery store. The impact on the community will be huge. As a school district, we utilize the Dillon's store frequently for our school lunch and breakfast program, concession stands, and for general purchases.”
The local parent teacher organization (PTO) uses Dillons cards for their primary source of revenue. Without that, this group will need to find another way to raise funds to help support school programs.
Susan Patterson USD 350 FCS instructor said the closing will present numerous challenges to her classes.
"Hands on' learning for the kids" comparison shopping, look at different cuts of meat, types of meats, store brand versus name brand, shopping on a budget, buying on sale, using coupons, reading labels, nutritional and dietary issues, are all things done at the local store,” she said. “Just the exposure itself is huge. Students learn better with visual, hands on activities. It’s a huge life lesson to shop, plan meals and prepare food.
“I will have to shop in Sterling when I get home, unload and put perishable food in my refrigerator and than re bag the next morning and haul the groceries to school, unpack again for foods labs on my own time now. My school planning time does not allow me to drive over to Pratt or Great Bend and get back in time to teach my next class. I am really struggling with it and the impact it will have on my students.”
A company spokeswoman said the decision to leave St. John was made "after careful consideration" and because the small store "couldn’t get all products they wanted for customers."
Over 100 residents packed into the County Annex building Sunday for a town hall meeting to discuss the next step.
“First off, I want to say that the decision to close is final,” Owens said. “No amount of petitions, calls or complaints will change that. What we need to talk about now is what we do going forward from here.”
Several suggestions were made about the possibilities of opening an independent grocery store. Jim Chancellor, owner of Paul’s Grocery in Stafford provided some insight into that telling guests they could figure on a half a million dollars to restock, get a point-of-sale cash register system and all the other requirements to get a store running.
“We bought the business (Paul’s) three years ago, and it was scary,” he said. “It's still scary, it takes a lot of community support just to keep your neck above water.”
He told residents if they were serious about trying to put in another store they would have to be willing to support it by shopping there instead of out of town.
“Those (loyalty) cards somebody mentioned earlier, I challenge everybody in here, if you’re serious, clip it, clip it tonight,” he said.
The loyalty cards played a part in Kroger’s decision to close the St. John store. Sales records on the cards showed that St. John residents, or shoppers of that store, spent as much or more money at Dillons stores in surrounding communities with larger, more profitable stores.
"The closing of an important business like the grocery store in St. John is a significant loss, but one we can overcome,” said Representative Greg Lewis, R-St. John. “I am committed to working with community leaders to find a solution. Small towns across Kansas are suffering and I will continue to work on policies that will help our rural communities prosper and grow."
There was a lot of support shown at the meeting for opening an independent store, a committee was formed to look at some of the possibilities available.
A more immediate issue was what the community could do to help those that cannot travel to Stafford or one of the other surrounding communities to shop.
Owens said they will be discussing that at the next city council meeting on Feb. 5 which will be held at the Annex building at 7 p.m.
A Facebook page has been set up at Save our St. John community grocery store, which has become a sounding board for ideas, praise or disappointment. As well as sharing ideas for other local options for produce items.
Leah Crissman posted, "I used spares produce for some of my local produce if Dillion's was low or didn't look good. Everything I purchased was awesome tomatoes,jalapeño, cucumbers, potatoes, peppers, onions and all fresh, watermelon."
Tabra Ward posted a suggestion about the possibilities of Dollar Store expanding their store on U.S. 281. "Dollar General has a "Dollar General Market" concept they started building the last few years. Since they already have presence in town it may be worth contacting corporate to see how those are doing and if they would have interest in SJ. The nice thing is that they have national purchasing power to keep prices reasonable, which is going to be one of the major challenges we face with a cooperative or small chain."
While the general mood at the meeting was negative toward the large grocery store conglomerate pulling out, some that pointed out that the store had also done a lot for the community in the past.
“There’s a lot of bad feelings towards Dillions right now, but there should be some thankfulness for how long they stayed here,” said St. John resident, Jim Phillips after the town hall meeting. “They’ve stayed a long time, putting advertisement dollars into the local paper, supporting the TV station, (Sandyland Shepherd Center TV 3) and other things in the community. There should be some gratefulness for staying and doing that as long as they did.”