LYNCH — A Boyd County village is launching a plan to eliminate its status as a “food desert” after its only grocery store closed in March 2020.
Valley Foods Cooperative, a grocery store capitalization fund headed by Paul Fisher, is actively selling shares and accepting donations in hopes of bringing a grocery store back to Lynch later this year.
Fisher, the president of the cooperative, teamed with Martha Nelson, David Barnes and others from the Lynch area in the grocery store reopening effort.
Since January, the group has been coordinating with Charlotte Narjes, rural prosperity Nebraska Extension educator. Narjes, who helps promote businesses in rural Nebraska, has helped with organizing the cooperative’s fundraising and store promotion.
According to Barnes, the cooperative’s secretary, a membership drive was started to sell shares in the cooperative on June 10. The group also asked for support at an alumni banquet on June 19. Those interested in helping with a reopening were encouraged to either purchase stock in the store or donate to the cooperative.
“It’s been a continuing effort to raise funds and raise memberships. If you get a membership, you’re a stockholder,” Barnes said. “If the store does well, there could be dividends. The store has to be financially viable before (dividends) would happen, but the possibility does exist.”
Barnes said the cooperative conducted a community survey in January, and 75% of respondents wrote that a grocery store is important in Lynch. Furthermore, 70% of the respondents said they would spend at least half their grocery dollars at the Lynch store.
There’s a large elderly population in Lynch, Fisher said, which he believes is a drive in the demand to reopen the store.
“Having a grocery store is important to people here. You can see it in the numbers,” he said.
Initially, Fisher said, the cooperative wanted to sell a “bare minimum” of $75,000 worth of shares before they would move forward with renovations or hiring workers. Ideally, he said, the cooperative wants to raise $100,000 so that the roof of the building can be coated and insulated.
“That’s something we would really like to get done,” he said.
As of Sept. 1, 114 people had either bought shares or donated to the cooperative, totaling $84,000.
Most of the financial support has been local, Barnes said, but donations also have been received from cabin sites along the Missouri River north of Lynch.
“They’ve helped put us over the top in reaching the minimum capitalization requirement,” he said.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a community can consider itself a food desert if “33% of the population lives more than 10 miles from the nearest large grocery store.”
The closest grocery store to Lynch is in Spencer, about 13 miles away.
The renovation of the former Lynch Hometown Market started earlier this summer. The overhaul includes replacing coolers, installing new flooring and a new ceiling and painting the inside and outside of the building.
Once the renovation is complete, a search for employees will convene. Fisher said it’s expected that a manager and two employees would be hired to run the store. The hope is for Valley Foods Cooperative to be open by November, Fisher said.
The cooperative is still hoping to sell stock and continues to accept donations. More support is needed, Fisher said, to help the business’ chances at success.
A village comprising about 250 people, Fisher said, Lynch is a community that goes “all in” on the projects it cares about and the businesses it encompasses.
Lynch has a community-run theater and reopened its swimming pool last year after it was damaged by March 2019 flooding, Fisher said. The village also has a hospital and bowling alley.
“There’s enough support to give it a go. It’s good to see so many people on board with bringing a grocery store back,” he said. “It’s been a long 18 months for some people.”