Community, workforce, economic and business development

Pilot Grove emerges from food desert with arrival of new grocery store

 

A grocery store is more than just a grocery store when your community hasn’t had one in five years.

Pilot Grove residents greeted the arrival of Tyler’s Market with enthusiasm last fall.

“It’s heaven-sent for us, because at our age it’s very difficult to get out and get groceries,” said longtime Pilot Grove resident Pat Dill, 81.

The Cooper County town of more than 700 citizens saw its last grocery close in 2008, which left residents with lengthy trips to Boonville, Marshall or Sedalia to visit a grocery store. Though surrounded by farmland, Pilot Grove had become a food desert.

In 2010, town leaders formed a community betterment group to explore solutions. Connie Mefford, a University of Missouri Extension community development specialist, helped the group sift through ideas.

“We knew we had to do something to bring a grocery store to town,” said local cattle rancher Robert Felten, one of the group’s leaders. “We have a community, but when you don’t have services, you don’t have a community for very long.”

Photo: Dolores Stegner pushes a shopping cart through the new grocery store.

Dolores Stegner shops at Pilot Grove’s new grocery store. Stegner is a member of the Pilot Grove Community Betterment Association, which enlisted MU Extension’s help to bring a grocery store to Pilot Grove.

Felten and other community leaders, backed by Mefford’s research, eventually encouraged the group to focus on an “if we build it, they will come” solution.

In spring 2013, the community betterment group organized a limited liability company (LLC) comprising 36 individuals. Within 10 days, the LLC raised more than $300,000 in capital to build a new grocery facility.

“Really, it was the whole town pulling together,” Mefford said. “People here care a lot about their community, and through the whole process I’ve seen people come through and offer to help out.”

The community’s sincerity attracted the interest of Cody and Paula Tyler, who ran successful small-town groceries in Knob Noster and Waverly. With construction capital and willing operators, concept quickly turned to reality. Pilot Grove shoppers were filling grocery carts at Tyler’s Market by November.

It’s an economic benefit for the town, said Dolores Stegner, a member of the Pilot Grove Community Betterment Association. She gave a lot of credit to Mefford for helping the group pinpoint a solution.

“She did the research for us and she attended every meeting, giving us encouragement,” Stegner said.

 

As part of the Community Arts Program, Lexington residents have contributed 1,167 volunteer hours and launched a fund for gifts and endowment to expand and sustain community arts programming — all in the first year of this pilot program. The city has benefitted from an improved public image, launched two new art businesses, held seven art shows and is developing an art gallery in partnership with regional artists and a nine-county tourism alliance.

The Extension Community Economic and Entrepreneurial Development (ExCEED) program has helped communities identify measures that can be taken to improve their community’s economic development. In FY 2014, the ExCEED program helped communities secure $170,250 in funding from grants or other sources, start 125 new businesses, create or retain 1,672 jobs and secure more than $55.7 million in business loans and investments.