St. John grocery store to be part of NBC documentary

Jennifer Stultz
Lloyd Ratts of St. John makes the first purchase from White's Foodliner in St. John at their grand opening in October 2018. Ratts passed away in 2019, but the grocery store has since caught the attention of the NBC Today Show that came to St. John on Friday to film a segment that will be included in an NBC story on rural grocery stores.

A visit of the NBC Today Show Weekend with Willie Geist to St. John's White's Foodliner grocery complex in St. John didn't go as planned earlier this week, but it did happen and footage filmed will be part of a special television documentary in the near future.

Residents and travelers through St. John have taken advantage of the food products, prescription medications and fuel island options at the White's Foodliner since the complex was built two years ago in St. John.

The successful establishment of a grocery store in a rural Kansas community caught the attention of the NBC Today Show Weekend, and a crew from NBC planned to be in St. John on Thursday, Feb. 6 to film a segment that will be included in a larger NBC story on shrinking rural access to necessities like food, gas and medication. The entire segment on NBC will highlight the success of small grocery stores. It will likely last only three minutes and White's Foodliner will not be the only grocery store mentioned in the segment.

Carolyn Dunn, Stafford County Economic Director, said she received an email from a producer at the NBC Today show who had seen a story in the New York Times about rural grocery stores and had read the Kansas State University Rural Grocery Initiative and thought this was a story worth highlighting.
At the core of this issue is an investment gap at the private level, public level and philanthropic level. This is not just about a food business being successful but also about population levels being strong enough to make entertainment, clothing, medical and other businesses successful.
Citizens of St. John were ready to meet and greet NBC television personalities at their grocery store as scheduled on Thursday afternoon, but Weekend Today producer Alicia Hastey flew into Wichita minus her television equipment which didn't make it. She had to reschedule her filming at St. John's White's Foodliner for Friday morning.

"She got here at 9 a.m. and took some shots of bananas and bread, but there were very few people in the grocery store at that time," said David Cutright, local news director for SSCTV3, a St. John station. "It was just unfortunate that two of the people she had planned to interview were both sick with the flu, but she didn't have much to work with."

Cutright said Hastey was able to film a few soundbites that will be part of the larger work on rural grocery stores, but didn't stay long and said she would stop in Kingman at the White's Foodliner store there to interview the manager on her way back to Wichita.

"We're still glad to be a small part of this segment," Dunn said. "We are proud of the fact that our grocery store has had a good, positive effect on St. John's economy."

Since the business opened in October 2018, there has been a trickle down effect. Sales tax revenues have gone up significantly not only at the Foodliner, but for other businesses as well. Rent collected through a store-lease agreement, along with the sales and real estate tax that is dedicated to financing the facility, has made the store a success and saved critical services for the people of St. John and Stafford County.

*Reporter Gale Rose contributed to this story.