“An anchor institution”: Emerson, Nebraska residents buy into grocery store’s return | Columnists: Nick Hytrek
“An anchor institution”: Emerson, Nebraska residents buy into grocery store’s return | Columnists: Nick Hytrek

“An anchor institution”: Emerson, Nebraska residents buy into grocery store’s return | Columnists: Nick Hytrek

EMERSON, Neb. — When the Post 60 Market grocery store opens soon in Emerson, the community literally will run the store.

If needed, many residents here just might be willing to work there for free. A number of them already have, showing up once, twice or three times to voluntarily unpack shipments of dry and canned goods and stock the shelves.







Emerson gets new grocery store

Gina Lawrence, below, and Fred Sebade stock shelves at the new Post 60 Market grocery store in Emerson, Neb. They’re among the numerous volunteers who have helped get the store ready for opening.




They’re thrilled to have a grocery store back in town and will do whatever it takes to make sure they’re not without one again.

“We have a lot of community support for it,” Emerson resident Mark Graf said. “It’s come together better than expected, and that’s exciting. But most of all, I’m excited to have a grocery store back in town.”

He and the rest of the 800 or so residents of this community, the only one in Nebraska to be located in three counties — Dakota, Dixon and Thurston.

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But since 2018, the number of greater importance here was 0, as in zero grocery stores in town after Mike’s Food Town closed.

“We went from having groceries in town to driving 20-30 minutes for the nearest groceries,” Graf said of the inconvenience everyone, especially elderly residents who have a harder time getting around, has experienced.

They won’t be making those drives to Pender, Wayne, West Point, South Sioux City or farther much longer.

As soon as the cash registers arrive, Post 60 Market could open, store manager Brian Horak said on a recent day when more than a dozen volunteers were helping him stock the shelves with the latest grocery shipment.

“Every time I need help, a lot of volunteers show up,” Horak said. “Every town needs a grocery store.”

You won’t find anyone in Emerson who disagrees.







Emerson gets new grocery store

Sean Lawrence, left, Miguel Vazquez, center, and Jace Malasek stock shelves and break down boxes at the new Post 60 Market grocery store in Emerson, Neb. The new store is located in the former American Legion Post 60 hall on Emerson’s Main Street.




“That’s what the town needs to keep it going. We want to make a go of it,” said Fred Sebade, an Emerson farmer who was among the volunteer stockers.

In 2020, a group of citizens, along with the village board, began looking for ways to bring a store back to town. With help from the University of Nebraska Extension, they formed a steering committee to explore feasibility and ownership models.

It’s a challenge many small, rural towns face, said Charlotte Narjes, a rural prosperity Extension educator.

Without a grocery store in town, elderly residents who have difficulties driving may choose to move to a community that does have groceries. The presence or absence of a grocery store can play a role when relocating families decide which town to settle in.

“That grocery store is an anchor institution,” Narjes said.

Emerson residents didn’t want to be weighed down by the lack of a grocery store any longer.

The community formed the Emerson Grocery Cooperative, an ownership model that gives those who buy shares a vote in how the store operates. More than 160 shares have been sold to date, raising more than $120,000, said Graf, chairman of the co-op’s board.

With the former grocery store building sold and unavailable, the co-op board needed a location. In stepped Emerson’s American Legion Post 60, looking to sell its Main Street building that was in need of some work.







Emerson gets new grocery store

The Post 60 Market grocery store is located in the former American Legion Post 60 hall on Main Street in Emerson, Neb. After selling the building to the cooperative that’s operating the store, the Legion will retain a meeting room in the basement.




Proceeds from share sales, grants, donations and loans funded the purchase and extensive renovation of the former Legion hall. The store was named Post 60 Market in honor of the Legion, which will retain a meeting room inside.

“It worked out perfect for both the store and the Legion,” said Horak, an Emerson native who as a high school student worked at Mike’s Food Town and at one time operated a grocery store with his brother in Springfield, Nebraska.

Horak will analyze shoppers’ purchases to determine which goods to add or discontinue at the store, which will employ two full-time and six part-time workers.

“The town’s going to manage the store in a way, and I’m going to make it happen,” he said. “It’s the town’s store.”

Emerson residents appear ready to make it work.

Down the aisle from Sebade, fellow shareholder and shelf-stocking volunteer Janie Gutzmann said she, along with nearly everyone in town, is excited to have a grocery store back in town. It’s added some much-needed buzz, and traffic.

“It’s nice to see cars on Main Street, and that’s what Emerson’s going to have again is cars on Main Street,” Gutzmann said.

And those cars will be heading downtown, not down the road, for groceries.

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