City officials have been notified that the Dillons grocery store in St. John will close on February 6. The short, two-week notice is salt in a very large wound for the community, leaving residents and businesses upset and scrambling to find alternatives for buying groceries.
Mayor Juliann Owens was quoted in the St. John News as saying, “This is going to be a tough blow to the community, especially to some of our older residents who rely on that store a lot.”
Once the Dillons store is closed, St. John residents will have to travel 12 miles to the nearest small grocer or at least 25 miles to a larger store. For some elderly residents who either walk or ride their scooters to the buy groceries, this will be very difficult.
City residents rallied together for a town hall meeting to discuss their options. Over 200 people attended and are planning ways to help those who can’t drive get groceries. Some are discussing the idea of a volunteer-run independent grocery store that would be supported by the community.
For now, the St. John City Council will discuss funding a bus to take people to the other towns for groceries. A longer-term plan to get another grocery store in St. John will also be discussed.
The mayor was told that this was simply a business decision. The store is closing for financial reasons and because the small store can’t be expanded. Mayor Owens does not believe Dillons can be persuaded to remain open.
The Kroger Company, Dillons’ parent company, is offering some employees at the St. John store the opportunity to transfer to one of its stores in Great Bend, Pratt or Larned, all of which are more than 20 miles away.
Unfortunately, the problem in St. John is not new. Many smaller towns across the country are seeing their grocery stores disappear. The problem is so serious that the Obama Administration launched the Healthy Food Financing Initiative in 2010 in an effort to bring grocery stores and other healthy food retailers to underserved urban and rural communities across America.