Pilot Grove, MO. - After four long years without a local grocery store in the town, a group of local community minded citizens has reversed a national trend. In many small rural communities grocery stores have been closing for a variety of reasons leaving communities without a local place to purchase food forcing shoppers all too often to commute many miles to buy the staples needed to support their families. In Pilot Grove that situation just changed.
Left with no local grocery store when the former store closed leaving a deteriorating building in the middle of the downtown area of the town of 762 residents, the community rallied to address the issue first hand. “Losing a business in the heart of the community is always difficult,” said Glenn Schupp, local banker at Citizens Community Bank. “This was an important issue for the community.”
The loss of a grocery store was so important to the community that local folks began to discuss how they could come up with a remedy. Several members of the Pilot Grove Community Betterment, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the community met with University of Missouri Extension Community Development Specialist, Connie Mefford, to explore how to address this need in the community.
A town hall meeting was held and a dozen civic leaders stepped up to carry the project forward. The community was surveyed and there indeed was interest in and a willingness to support a new grocery store in the farming community situated in the heart of Cooper County.
The group of civic leaders invested over a year exploring options and resources to reach the goal of a new grocery store resulting in constructing a new building and recruiting a new operator interested in Pilot Grove. Committee member, Dolores Stegner found Cody and Paula Tyler who operate two small town grocery stores in Knob Noster and Waverly, each about 50 miles way.
The Tylers had a successful track record of operating small town grocery stores. More importantly, the Tylers were interested in expanding their Tyler Market concept to other small towns in Missouri and Pilot Grove fit the bill.
“We provided a bit of technical assistance, some research and answered a few questions,” said David Gaines, Vice President of Moberly Area Economic Development Corporation. “They really did not need much help as the group that had been assembled knew what they wanted and was determined to make it happen.”
During the process the town’s lone medical professional, Nurse Practitioner, Laurie Beach stepped up with a pivotal commitment. Beach offered the needed land on the community’s main street to build a new grocery store. “The site is easy to get to for most people in town,” said Beach. Born and raised in the Pilot Grove area, Beach shared the vision of the committee to develop a community owned building where the store would be located.
Page 2 of 2 - “Laurie really became our powerhouse, putting action behind the committee’s ideas,” stated University of Missouri Extension Community Development Specialist, Connie Mefford.
One key element remained missing. There was the land, an idea, dedicated individuals and a committed operator with experience to operate a grocery store. It was almost complete; however there was the ever present issue of money. Who would fund the project and how much would be needed? The work continued.
Chris Streck was recruited to join the team to lend a hand. “Chris really was helpful in developing the construction cost projections for the project,” said Beach. “From that guidance we were able to continue moving forward.”
Pilot Grove Community Investment Properties, LLC was formed as the entity that would own and construct the grocery store that Tyler’s Market would operate. Investors and their money came to the table. Nearly two dozen local farmers and residents invested over a third of a million dollars to fund the project. “Without that financial support we would have not been able to go forward,” said Beach. “They really stepped up and put their money at stake and did not just talk about it.”
Years of hard work came to reality late this past spring when the first shovel of dirt was turned. The former residence of Martha Vollmer on College Street in Pilot Grove was now becoming the home for the town’s new grocery store.
All that is left to do is a few minor touches to the building. Soon the first truck load of groceries will arrive and the shelves will be stocked. Hiring and training for new employees is underway. The doors are scheduled to open for business by the end of October, if all goes right and there is no doubt in Pilot Grove that it will.
“It’s amazing to see the commitment of the people of Pilot Grove,” said Cody Tyler, Co-Owner of Tyler’s Market. “Without their persistence we would not be here.”
“The effort of those involved in this project is typical of the rural Missouri work ethic,” said Pilot Grove Mayor Dennis Knipp. “I am confident that the next person to invest in Pilot Grove will receive the same kind of welcome and support.
The official Grand Opening for the newest business in Pilot Grove is slated for November 9th. Undoubtedly the entire community will be there. Leaders from other communities interested in learning how Pilot Grove came together will surely be walking in the crowd, taking notes.