“Small towns can survive and thrive.”
The mayor didn’t exactly say that, but the feeling was obviously in his heart, and he’s doing his part to create a reality.
Philosophies have been for a rural community to live, there must be a school, and a grocery store. Apparently that is true, as just simple computation reveals first the grocery closes, consolidation takes schools, and within short time, bulk of the business district is boarded up. Sad story in a growing number of small towns.
Alta Vista fortunately has a fine elementary school, with filled classrooms, but upon passing of the grocery store owner four years ago, that business closed. Stringent efforts reopened the doors, yet survival was not possible.
The Wabaunsee County farming community of Alta Vista, population about 450, was without grocery store convenience for three years. The few other businesses in town felt further degeneration of their patronage, too, they said.
A largely elderly population, with numerable transients from Fort Riley and other nearby communities, and thankfully some young couples who appreciate the small town atmosphere for raising their families were forced to shop for groceries, and related essentials, far from home
“I love Alta Vista. It’s a great community, actually the first place in my life that I can truly say is ‘home,’” insisted Shane Tiffany, The Mayor.
“Alta Vista is alive, with 90 percent of the housing occupied. I kept hearing from my family and others in the community expressing how much they really appreciate living here. But, it ‘would be nice to have a place to shop’ for family staples, instead of being forced to drive to another city miles away just to get a loaf of bread, and the rest of a complete grocery list,” Tiffany related.
There are often two tents of thought about small towns, the mayor contended. “The better days are gone, so just let the community pass in peace. Or, what I think is better, and is my opinion: let’s honor the past and look toward the future,” he said.
“I am passionate that Alta Vista needs a grocery store, wants one, can support it and will,” Tiffany said.
So, the young energetic mayor, with his wife Morgan, a hometown progeny who brought her husband to where she was raised to grow their family, undertook establishment of a grocery store.
“I contacted several firms that have grocery stores, or even convenience shops in small towns, and none of them were interested in Alta Vista for various reasons. It didn’t have the right demographics, wasn’t located on a major highway, would be too costly to build a store, too much overhead, etc. Everywhere I turned, there was a dead end,” Tiffany claimed.
Heartfelt belief it was possible remained. “I am a numbers man. I did all of the research, and I knew it was feasible to have a grocery store to serve Alta Vista. So, Morgan and I just decided we’d undertake the project ourselves, as a service to the community, and our belief in it,” he insisted.
“However, I’m a cattleman, and my wife is a mother. We really didn’t know anything about being grocery store operators, and really didn’t have a desire to be in the business, rather than to help our community, and have the service for our own families,” Tiffany stipulated.
Consequently, there were two essential ingredients for the Tiffany couple to move forward in their endeavor to bring a grocery business service to the seemingly on-the-verge of morbid hometown.
“You don’t necessarily have to be big, but you do have to be a part of something big, as I learned when my brother, Shawn, and I entered the feedlot business,” Tiffany evaluated. “We needed a larger buying group in order to make sufficient volume of purchases, and we had to have somebody with knowledge and desire to handle day-to-day operations of a grocery store.”
Fortunately, the components came together. “Jim Puff operates the Maple Hill Market and makes purchase through Affiliated Foods. Jim has worked with other food establishments through the years, and offered to allow us to buy through him to not only help justify Affiliated deliveries to him, but also allowing us to have a ready grocery source,” Tiffany appreciated.
“Then, it seemed to be in the plan, that ironically Aaron Monihen, who I knew when I was growing up at Riley, was involved in the retail business through Crown Distributing at Junction City, and with his wife, Cheryl, operates Lazee Days and Rhinestones here in Alta Vista.
“They are Alta Vista residents, think of the community the way we do, and have the capabilities and desire to run the grocery store,” Tiffany continued.
Of course, there was a readily available facility, although that might actually be a bit of a misnomer statement. The former grocery store was in place with the outdated merchandise and inoperable heating, cooling and worn out most essential food cooler and freezer storage equipment.
Even though the solid brick structure was there, financing is still essential to make the initial building purchase, essential renovations, equipment nstallment and biggest requirement: the groceries.
“We presented our plan to the Alta Vista State Bank right next door, and we were really blessed that without hesitation arrangements were in place so we could move forward in developing a grocery store again for AltaVista,” said Tiffany,
Federal and local economic development grant and loan options were considered. But, the owner explained, “Those can be helpful in many cases, but we’re glad we could get the necessary backing without utilizing those programs.”
The effort was underway. “We completely gutted the building, the refrigeration, shelving merchandize, tile, everything. We wanted a brand new store from floor to ceiling, and we have it,” Tiffany said on Independence Day morning just six days after opening Alta Vista Market.
“It’s been real good so far, and it’s been so exciting with all of the support, and business we’ve had,” the mayor-grocery store owner smiled, adding that the structure was bought May 2, and opened as a new grocery store, June 28.
Getting everything in place was no small endeavor. “We have had a lot of community support, and several things have just seemed to come into place to help us out,” Tiffany appreciated.
All new shelving was purchased; designed and set-up in varied format from the previous store layout.
A large 50-foot-by-eight-foot walk-in, cooler-freezer, with 13 store side compartments was acquired from a PX (Post Exchange) at Fort Riley, and appears almost brand new. It features four freezer doors and nine-foot cooler doors, with ample freezer and cold storage behind.
“Interestingly, the former walk-in cooler now serves as our office,” Tiffany commented.
“A local farmer had acquired food service counters when a brand name convenience store closed, and he just donated the complete system to us. It’s literally like new, too, and the farmer just insisted on giving it to us, to help out the cause, he said. We’re really appreciative of that as well,” Tiffany thanked.
Other firms and individuals in the community were credited: K-Construction, remodeling; Mike Asbury, wiring; Jason Baldwin, carpenter; Roger Syring, Morgan’s father, heating and cooling; and others.
“They’ve all been so great. Aaron and I, and our wives, have been ‘grunt labor-sweat equity,’” related Tiffany, noting that barn wood siding creates a hometown atmosphere to the new store.
An ice machine has been purchased and is in operation, so Alta Vista Market sacks their own ice for sale. “People have not been able to get bagged ice in Alta Vista for some time,” Tiffany said.
Facilities are essential, but food is what it’s all about. “We have a full line of Shurfine products, and many other major brands, and even will be able to add certain brand name lines of specific items, if there is customer demand for them,” Tiffany explained.
Canned goods and even certain packaged products have extended shelf life. However, the perishable food items typically create problems for storekeepers, yet are demanded by patrons, if they are to come back and remain steady customers.
“We have a small variety of fresh produce, strawberries, bananas, apples, lettuce, cantaloupe, celery, and the like. Those items have been very popular for our customers, so far. We just have to figure out our supply and demand to keep fresh products available,” Tiffany insisted.
Meat, milk, eggs and bread are also perishable, and considered essentials in most homes. “Of course, we’re in the cattle business at Tiffany Cattle Company near Herington, so we’re going to supply the beef. It will be processed at Alta Vista Locker, and all cuts will be available in frozen packaging, with some cuts also fresh,” explained Tiffany, noting that frozen poultry, and certain pork items are also to be offered.
“Fanestil Meats at Emporia has been cooperative in supplying bacon, luncheon meats, Party Time ham,
and beef products which will be available fresh, and be cut to order and served in our delicatessen,” Tiffany said.
Milk, eggs and even limited life products such as potato chips come from Shurfine, but bread is not available through that source.
“The bread companies will not deliver to Alta Vista at the present time. We have to go to Council Grove to get Serra Lee and Rainbo bread products, and there is no return of the purchases when outdated. Again, we must figure out our supply requirement to meet the patronage demand,” Tiffany figured.
Pharmaceuticals, personal items, dog food, even canning supplies are in stock on store shelves for buyer satisfaction. “From bird seed to aspirin, we have it, and we’ll do our best to stock what the people want and will purchase when we have it available,” the owner assured.
Smoke and alcohol products might not be rural conservative appealing, but they are required merchandise for patron request-service, as well as financial stability of the business.
Now, customers must come to utilize the service provided in order to help guarantee it will continue. “We know people are used to buying their groceries in other towns, often where they work, and sadly everybody has become accustomed to driving out of Alta Vista to shop.
“However, Alta Vista, Dwight and the surrounding area have the population to readily support Alta Vista Market. We plan to offer products, prices and services so they shop in their home town, and closer to home, because they want to for all of those reasons,” Tiffany said.
Perhaps before quality, or certainly right after it, consumer concern is price. “We have to keep the store profitable, but our prices are going to be very comparable to competitive operations. Right now, we have generic products that are sometimes priced much less than other stores that are 15 to 30 miles from here,” Tiffany calculated.
In addition to Cheryl and Aaron Monihen, the business has added two other regular employees, with Shane and Morgan Tiffany helping now, and will be available when called upon.
“It’s been a real challenge, and it’s going to be tough, we know that. But, we think our food service is what will put us over the top.
“We have breakfast sandwiches, pizza, fresh made deli sandwiches just like customers want them, coffee, cappuccino, fountain drinks, ice cream, and even a community table where patrons can have breakfast, lunch, snack and relax for a cup of coffee, soda or an ice cream cone. That’s table’s really been a popular place in the store, so far,” Tiffany said.
Convenient business hours are daily from 6 in the morning, to 8 in the evening, Monday through Friday; Saturday, 7 a.m., to 8 p.m.; and Sunday from 7, to 9 a.m.; and again from 1, to 4 p.m.
Additionally, home and business delivery service is planned several times a week. Getting the word out to expand patronage will be through advertising in the hometown Alta Vista newspaper, the Prairie Post, also a very important link to the small town survival.
A new Alta Vista Market sign and awning sets the business apart from the past Main Street, and prominently adorned Alta Vista Market insignia t-shirts worn by owners, management and employees spread word of availability as well.
“There are other food service businesses in town, and we don’t intend to be competition to them. We hope to work together to help each other, and all of the few remaining businesses in town. We’ve had considerable favorable response from some of those longtime Alta Vista operations,” Tiffany allowed.
A regular Saturday Farmer’s Market is in the planning behind neighboring Bill’s Barber Shop, as an additional service to be an outlet for home produced items and other products for area people.
“We know the 450 people at Alta Vista, 200 at Dwight and the 1,000 in the surrounding area don’t have to come to Alta Vista Market to shop, so we are determined to earn their support. We have a bright clean grocery store, good selection of groceries and home supplies, congenial customer services, individualized personal food amenities, fair prices and convenient hours.
“At Alta Vista Market, we are committed to making a difference in our community. We want everybody to shop here, because they love our store,” Tiffany summarized.
Contact can be mail at 785-499-6333, email@example.com, on Facebook, and a website is in the making.