More Than a Market
By John Marshall
The grocery store is integral to daily life in a small town, to its abiding spirit, its commerce and habitude. In Lindsborg, Scott’s Hometown Foods has been high on the list of amenities that make a place more livable, not just lived-in.
Over the years Scott’s has acquired landmark status, a place of abundant inventory, a store that draws people, their close personal association. Being there can be as eye-opening as shopping there; the experience can range from what’s on the shelves to who’s around the corner – the unexpected meeting, a chance encounter that stretches a dash for milk to half an hour with an old friend. This is one of those stores that enforces the cohesion of community.
On July 14, Scott and Susan Achenbach announced they were selling their store to White’s Foodliner, effective August 26. White’s is a family-owned business that has stores in Kingman, Medicine Lodge, Phillipsburg, Scott City, and St. John. “Our hope is to be able to take some overdue family time with our children and grandchildren,” Scott said.
The news was at once unsettling and revealing. Owning and managing a small supermarket that closes only two days a year is demanding, ceaseless work. Maintaining one with high standards has been their mission for 26 years. They’re tired.
The sale of Scott’s, in our case, is more than a transfer of ownership, one business to another. It provokes appreciation for the capacity of a business in a small town.
A sense of this may be seen in an episode six years ago, when rumors ignited a storm of dissent that roared up like a prairie fire. A local landowner had sold a parcel, the paperwork was nearly finished and the process well underway to permit construction of a Walmart Express in Lindsborg. The land, recently cleared, was across the highway directly east of Scott’s.
Rumor turned out to be fact. Walmart was in the works. This was seen by many as a direct threat to the Achenbachs who, at the time, were about to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their grocery business in Lindsborg. It would harm the pharmacy, the hardware store and other local businesses, but most, it took straight aim at Scott’s.
It was no surprise that the Walmart plans had kicked up a fury. The store was certain to be approved by the City’s planning and zoning board, and there seemed no solid legal obstacle to later approval by the City Council. The prevailing reaction was as much indignation as outrage. Why would we lower ourselves with a Walmart, when we have Scott’s?
There were also hints of the sinister, uttered with a vicious hiss: I wouldn’t want to be a council member voting aye on that one…
There were meetings, discussions, telephone calls, Internet flurries. Facebook heaved with scorn, malice, consternation. The town resolved that City Hall get the message: Walmart is not wanted and not needed. Not here.
In short time, the land owner and Walmart announced that they were dropping plans for a store in Lindsborg, and moved the mission 50 miles west, to Ellsworth. Our community had roared its indignation, and a multi-national conglomerate somehow had understood, and went away.
That land became the future site for AuBurn Pharmacy, to relocate from its tight quarters in the Lindsborg Hospital and clinic complex.
In early 2011, Scott and Susan Achenbach were honored with Lindsborg’s Community Service Award at the annual Chamber of Commerce banquet. It was the city’s highest recognition for selfless service to community.
The Achenbachs have been involved in countless volunteer organizations and civic campaigns, and among their contributions to community was an annual Thanksgiving dinner which they provided at no charge for anyone who wished to attend; crowds were usually in the hundreds.
Before moving to Lindsborg, Scott Achenbach had been manager of the Lyons Foodliner in Lyons. In 1994, the Achenbachs purchased a long-established local grocery in downtown Lindsborg from owners who wanted to retire. Six years later they began construction of a new 20,000 square foot store in east Lindsborg, doubling the size of the former location and opening the new store in January, 2001.
Scott’s has elevated the quality of life in our town, advanced community standards beyond the common, the acceptable, the bearable. It understands that people have begun to choose where they want to live, rather than submit to life’s next assignment. Groceries are part of the equation.
In announcing the sale, effective August 26, Scott said that White’s will continue to offer a full range of services “including a comprehensive loyalty program and mobile app.”
The new owners plan to continue the Achenbachs’ legacy, to do better what they did best. This is their hope, a beautiful thing these days.