By Matt Liebman, Wheatsfield Board Member
April, May, June Board Report
Before moving to Ames, I lived outside a small town in northern New England. The town didn’t have a lot of stores, but a person or family could cover all their common needs without traveling twelve miles to the shopping mall. One of the most important businesses in town was the hardware store. It was small, but it had been operating since 1892 and was filled with useful things in appropriate quantities. If you needed two bolts, you could buy just two bolts and not a whole box. And if you needed any sort of advice about how to repair something or do a remodeling job, the owner and his staff could tell you what you needed to know. They took pride in customer service.
It was the kind of store that was thoroughly local. The owner I knew took over from his father, who had also been the elementary school principal. The store wasn’t owned by the community, but it served and welcomed the community. One of the guys I worked with drank coffee and traded news with customers at the hardware store on Saturday mornings when he wasn’t fishing, and if you weren’t from town you’d never know he wasn’t an employee.
When I returned a few years ago, the local hardware store was gone, having succumbed to competition from the big-box warehouse stores down the road. Friends in town told me tears were shed when it closed. There was a hole in the community that bigger stores that were parts of nation-wide and world-wide chains weren’t going to fill.
Hardware isn’t the same as groceries, but some of the issues concerning where we shop, who we support with our purchases, and community service and engagement are similar for both kinds of enterprises. I shop at Wheatsfield because it has an outstanding product line, but also because it’s part of the local community. Wheatsfield is member-owned (more than 6,000 and still counting!), hosts educational events for the public, donates funds to local service organizations, and returns the profits it generates to the central Iowa economy, not to corporate headquarters a thousand miles away. I always see someone I know when I’m at Wheatsfield and receive useful information and recommendations from staff members. When I look up at the walls, I see photographs of farmers I know who sell their fruit, vegetables, flowers, milk, eggs, and meat through the store.
I travel quite a bit for work and I’ve come to realize that relatively few communities have co-ops as good as what we have at Wheatsfield. Keeping the store strong is a priority for me; I hope it is for you, too.