I’ve written about the possibility of a government-subsidized grocery before, but only from an open-government perspective concerning Council’s last meeting in joint session with the Community Development Authority. There have been a few press accounts of previous public meetings about a grocery, but not one of the accounts shows the challenges involved in maintaining a subsidized grocery for the long-term.
The desire for a grocery in town is undoubtedly strong, and it would likely have a value in attracting newcomers, but keeping one going depends on attracting and maintaining customers where prior efforts have failed, in a low-margin industry. The key question isn’t whether one can attract a grocery, however hard that may seem, but whether a grocery one attracts will prove desirable and sustainable.
Prior local government projects that have subsidized businesses have done so farther from the public eye, mostly without the need to attract customers from within a single community, and not for an enterprise relying on high-volume but low-margins from among those in that community.
It’s no easy feat to keep a business of those characteristics going. It’s easy to see why policymakers and residents would like a grocery; maintaining one requires attracting and retaining customers apart from a public subsidy. To do so will require both gathering consumer demand now satisfied elsewhere and, longer-term, generating new demand from within the area.