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Rural community emerges from food desert with new grocery store


Phil Leslie
University of Missouri Extension

Photos available for this release:

Dolores Stegner shops at Pilot Grove's new grocery store.

Credit: Jessica Salmond, MU Extension

Before Tyler's Market opened in 2013, residents of Pilot Grove, Mo., had gone five years without a local grocery store.

Credit: Jessica Salmond, MU Extension

Published: Monday, March 17, 2014

Story source:

Connie Mefford, 660-438-5012

Related radio feature produced by Debbie Johnson. For downloadable broadcast-quality audio, contact Johnson at 573-882-9183.

PILOT GROVE, Mo.– When is a grocery store more than just a grocery store? When it’s the first grocery store in town in more than five years.

Residents of the west-central Missouri town of Pilot Grove 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,” says longtime Pilot Grove resident Pat Dill, 81.

The Cooper County town of more than 700 citizens saw its last grocery close in 2008. That left residents with lengthy trips to Boonville, Marshall or Sedalia to forage for food.

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,” says 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.”

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

In the spring of 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,” says Mefford. “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 obvious sincerity attracted the interest of Cody and Paula Tyler, who ran successful small-town groceries in Knob Noster and Waverly. The Tylers were interested in expanding to other small towns and Pilot Grove fit the bill.

With the construction capital and willing operators, concept quickly turned to reality. Pilot Grove shoppers began filling their grocery carts at Tyler’s Market in November.

It’s an economic benefit for the town, contends Dolores Stegner, a member of the Pilot Grove Community Betterment Association. She gives 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,” says Stegner.

“It’s nice to have a grocery store close by,” she adds. “But it’s more than a grocery store. It’s a place where members of the community can see each other and meet a friendly ‘hello,’ and chitchat and so forth.”