Grocery stores are a staple on rural main streets across the country. They provide fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, staple food items and even cleaning supplies, toiletries and over-the-counter medicine.

We've heard from a few communities seeking solutions on keeping their grocery stores vibrant. So, here are some steps to start the conversation:

• Get folks together in a community meeting. Make sure everyone has a say and feels included. If people have invested time, money and energy into a project, they will want it to succeed.

• Listen. What does your community need? What kinds of products do people want to buy? If necessary, are people willing to volunteer time or invest money to make it happen?

• Stack enterprises. Could your grocery store have a coffee shop, cafe, bank, post office or pharmacy attached? More businesses using the same space and utilities equal lower costs.

• Provide the best customer service. Have a prominent suggestion box and a bulletin board where people can see the questions and answers. If a product is requested, see if you can carry it. Make the store a source of community pride.

• Consider all ownership options. A grocery store doesn't have to be an independent retailer, it can be community-owned, a cooperative or school-based.

The Center for Rural Affairs has written a report on ownership models for grocery stores, which can be found at

Established in 1973, the Center for Rural Affairs is a private, nonprofit organization working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches and rural communities through action oriented programs addressing social, economic and environmental issues.