COMMENTARY: Rural Grocers Commit to Customers During COVID-19 Pandemic

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While we have all done our best to stay healthy and safe during the coronavirus pandemic, rural communities have risen above the challenges forced upon them during this unprecedented time and shown what true fortitude and grit look like—coming together to make sure neighbors, friends, and family are safe, well-fed, and cared for.

One sector—rural grocery stores—has stepped up to provide for their customers.

During the onslaught of new restrictions and regulations, people started panic buying, resulting in many stores often being unable to keep products on their shelves. Rural grocers asked for more frequent deliveries and limited purchases of those high in-demand items, sharing photos of full shelves, meats, toilet paper, and other items.

Some of these small business owners were able to add conveniences such as free deliveries, curbside services, and implemented additional precautions visible inside the store, such as plastic shields, around the cashiers.

Mike Graybeal, owner of Graybeal’s Foods in West Point, Nebraska (population 3,364), has kept his shelves stocked and has seen more traffic. “It’s almost like when we prep for a holiday, except the holiday is never coming,” he said.

Mike, and other rural grocers, continue to show up every day for their customers to provide us with the essentials we depend on. Resiliency in a time of crisis has become a way of life, and these business owners take on whatever roles necessary to get the job done, including potentially putting themselves in harm’s way.

Rural grocers have been able to serve their communities in a way that their big box counterparts cannot. Right now, it is making me want to be very intentional about putting my money in my local grocers’ hands as much as possible, and continue to be mindful of this in the future.

By Sandra Renner, Farm and Community director, Center for Rural Affairs