Your Small Town Grocery Store is a Rural Tourism Attraction

by Joanne Steele on June 1, 2010

If you ask an urbanite why they go to the grocery store, they might look at you strangely, then answer, “To buy food, of course!”

In small towns a grocery store is much more. It’s a place to meet friends, to get local news, an economic engine for a rural community and for many areas, it’s a rural tourism attraction.

This month Kansas State University is sponsoring a Rural Grocery Store Summit to examine the challenges rural communities are having keeping their valuable grocery stores stocked and open.

Why am I, a rural tourism marketing specialist, writing about grocery stores?

Because they are visitor attractions.Mt. Shasta Supermarket storefront

One of the first posts I wrote almost a year ago was about Berryvale Grocery in Mt. Shasta, which functions like an extension of the local visitors’ bureau. Have a read to learn how the owners work to maintain this status for their store.

On Saturday, I did a little shopping at another of my favorite local grocery stores, Mt. Shasta Supermarket. It has an old fashioned exterior, and oiled wooden floors inside. It’s a magnet for visitors.

While I was in, a visitor was shopping for a picnic. Her basket included locally produced bread, locally grown tri-tip custom sliced by the butcher and locally produced sauces that Keith, the owner, makes a special effort to stock.

Mt. Shasta Supermarket

Conversation is part of a rural grocery store experience.

The staff had their heads together discussing the best picnic spot to recommend to her. Several locals standing in line got into the conversation, and she was directed to a spot that she would never have discovered on her own.

I do one major shopping once a week, and I plan half an afternoon, because shopping involves so much visiting and chatting. When I visit my kids who live in cities, I’m amused by how far their big chain grocery stores will go to look like my country store.

Sorry folks, you’re way off base, because your size eliminates the social part of a rural grocery store experience.

Tennessee Tourism puts their country grocery stores on their rural tourism sightseeing trails. Stores like the Coble Grocery Store provide much needed supplies for locals, and they are a destination for visitors.

Here’s a quote from the web site for Coble’s County Store:

“It’s not the products we sell that make us special–it’s the service. We take the time to talk to you. Take the time to talk to us and you’ll find out about the places to go and the things to do. That’s why we have a front porch with a bench for sitting, and that’s why we have an old fashioned wood burning stove in the store. These places are for sitting and talking. While you’re on the front porch, take a look at the community bulletin board. Somebody local might have something you need.”

The message for small towns is that what you have to offer visitors right now is plenty. The days of Disneyland knock-off destinations like Branson, Missouri, US are numbered.

People are craving authentic experiences. Protect your local, rural grocery store and you are preserving a vital local resource and enhancing your rural tourism destination status.

1 Alison Cassin June 4, 2010 at 12:07 pm

This is great Joanne! The locally owned grocery store is the first place I look for when I visit a new town. I even asked around to find out which would be the best one to go to in Hood River last week. Of course, I go shopping for food, and I love looking for interesting locally made products, but I also think that I get a real feel for the community when I’m there. There are towns I have traveled through around the country and I feel drawn to go back to, because I loved the food store so much!

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