St. John, Kansas, (population 1,295) is the quintessential All-American small town. It is a place where children ride their bikes to school, the store and the roller rink; people leave their cars and oors unlocked, and everyone knows everyone else by
name. The park in the town square even boasts a small scale Statue of
Liberty. Surrounded by farmland as far as the eye can see, the scenic
1.88 square-mile city, the county seat of Stafford County, would be the
idyllic place to live were it not for one key thing—St. John does not have
At least not since Feb. 2. That is the day the Hutchinson, Kan.-based
Dillons division of Kroger pulled the plug on its 5,200 square-foot store
on the north side of the square, ending a presence in St. John that went
back some 88 years. The move left town residents and elected officials
both reeling and seething.
“I got a phone call on Jan. 22 from one of their representatives informing me that the store would be closing in two weeks,” says Juliann
Owens, the mayor of St. John.
“It was a relatively small store, but it was the only one we had,” she
says. “We have a lot of older folks and lower income residents that can’t
always afford to drive to the next grocery store.” That is a half-hour
drive, either north or south, to two larger communities that each have a
Walmart and full-service Dillons, although there is an independent in
Stafford, 10 miles away. “But it is a small independent and their prices
reflect that,” Owens says.
“Dillons operates maybe three of these small stores in really small
towns and St. John was one of them,” says David Procter, director of The
Center for Engagement and Community Development, in the Office of
the Provost at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan. “I think it
was simply not making the margin that Kroger was after. What’s ironic
is St. John is kind of out in the middle of nowhere, so it is not like they
were butting up against a Walmart 10 miles away.”
As small as the store was, it did offer St. John residents a meat coun-
ter, and while it did not offer an in-store bakery, the store manager
lived in Great Bend and brought in fresh baked goods from the Great
Bend Dillons. “We were the basics—produce, meat, milk—that kind of
stuff was the focus of the store,” Owens says. “They carried things like
dog food, cleaning supplies, and at holiday times they would bring in
City officials are doing their best to bring in another supermarket,
but that might not be easy.
“Dillons has another 10 years lease on the building,” Owens says.
“The last I heard is that they weren’t going to let go of that lease.”
With St. John’s economy based almost solely on farming, Dillons’
CHANGING POPULATION AND SHOPPING PATTERNS
ARE CAUSING SCORES OF SUPERMARKETS TO CLOSE
ACROSS SMALL-TOWN AMERICA.
BY RICHARD TURCSIK