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Grocery store in discussion

Q: What’s the town doing to attract a new grocery store to Farmville? It seems like we keep getting new restaurants, but no new grocery store.

Sheri McGuire

One of the biggest factors in drawing another grocery store to Farmville is proving the town’s market can sustain the volume of sales needed relative to the investment, according to Sheri McGuire, president of the Farmville Downtown Partnership (FDP).

According to McGuire, about two years ago, the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) awarded FDP a grant to study the feasibility of locating specific businesses downtown.

“Recognizing the need for food options given the location of more housing downtown, FDP used some of the remaining funds to study the feasibility of locating a grocery store in or near downtown,” McGuire said.

“We have taken our data and analysis to a grocery distributor who works with larger-chain grocers as well as smaller independent grocers along the East Coast,” she said. “Conversations are happening. We (FDP’s Economic Vitality Committee, EVC) are doing quite a bit of number crunching and location analysis while our consultant and grocery distributor are actively helping us seek the right owner/operator. The Town of Farmville is an active partner in this effort.”

McGuire said what most shoppers may not understand is that the grocery business, especially for large, more well-known grocers, “is a very low-margin business dependent on volume. 

Investment in the fixtures and operational costs required is significant and can be prohibitive to smaller operators. In order to attract a larger, well-known grocery brand here, we have to prove that our market can sustain the volume of sales needed relative to the investment.”

McGuire said with rural demographics and gaps in income levels, “we have a bit more of a challenge in this area. While those facts may seem discouraging, there are options for our market.”

According to McGuire, FDP, through the EVC, “worked closely with a consultant who has spent his entire career as a location specialist in the grocery industry. The consultant provided us with enough data to begin having conversations with grocery suppliers.”

At this point in time, she said a “smaller, boutique-style, grocer concentrating on a variety of fresh foods can be successful — with the right ingredients.”

The right ingredients, according to McGuire, include “the owner/operator’s ability to invest and assume the risk associated with the investment; a very well-focused and planned product lineup which is suited, but also priced, according to market needs; and most importantly, experienced and well-trained management.”

“A new grocery store in town would not only be good for residents, but also the local economy,” said Town Manager Gerald Spates. “I am often asked why we don’t have certain restaurants or businesses in the town. Franchises have specific requirements for choosing their locations.”