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January 22, 2016
Starkness on the edge of town: two empty grocery store buildings and no full-service grocer. That’s the scene for Oriental as of January 28 when the WalMart Express shuts down. Just 3 months before this, the independently-owned Town-n-Country went out of business after 4-plus decades; it was unable to survive after losing so many customers to the giant retailer. Now those Walmart customers – and the rest of Oriental and surrounding area – have no grocer.
True, there are places to find sustenance in Oriental. The Provision Company (primarily a marine parts store) now sells organic meats, dairy and truly local produce from Pamlico and nearby counties. Dollar General expanded their food aisles after T-n-C closed.
But what many people want is a full service, one-stop-shop in Oriental. Opinions vary on who should run it, what it should carry, where it should be, how big it should be.
Some readers such as Jean White, Kathryn Garcia amd Chris Hobson write in to share their thoughts.
To the Editor,
I did everything I could to keep Town & Country in business—two “anti-Walmart” T-shirt designs, “I Love Town & Country” window signs and a lengthy letter with recommendations for continuance to Renee. The only things I shopped for at Food Lion when Ruth and Renee were in business were rotisserie chickens and kitty litter, and since Town & Country’s closing, I have not set foot in the Walmart Express.
I don’t feel that the answer to keeping Town & Country viable before was to bring in that big Bob’s Red Mill display and shelves of glass-bottled organic iced teas in an effort to turn the store into an organic market. I also think our plight is simpler than gathering citizens together to create a co-op. We just need a store by an experienced grocer with meats (bring Tommy back!), produce, that same great artisan bread and other food items.
Dollar General has been a good local citizen; paper goods, cleaning supplies, health & beauty items and even a lot of office supplies can be purchased there at affordable prices. They should be patronized for the good things they have, and hopefully another small independent grocer will come to fill other needs.
Oriental cannot be without a grocery, and I have good faith that someone—either Ruth and Renee, or another independent grocer—will realize the potential and soon open a store here. An established grocer will see our need and come to town, and Bob Miller’s opinion piece in today’s News & Observer certainly helps broadcast our situation across the state.
And if Oriental is lucky enough to attract another store, I say to everyone, please patronize it. Many locals claimed to support Town & Country by lauding the convenience of shopping there when they ran in during the week to purchase a few items, yet they were driving up the road with their coolers to Food Lion or even to Harris Teeter to do their major weekly shopping. Those of you who said you shopped at Town & Country, yet went up the road for major shopping, were fooling yourselves if you thought you were truly supporting our local store. We probably wouldn’t be in this predicament if Ruth’s bottom line had been better with your business—at least they might have hung on these past three months and we wouldn’t be without a store now.
So if another grocery comes to town, please help us all by actually shopping there and not tricking yourselves into claiming to do so.
On a related note:
To The Editor:
The Oriental Food Initiative is hosting a town meeting on Wednesday, January 27 at 6:30 p.m. at The Old Theater to discuss local food issues.
The Oriental Food Initiative is a group of local residents that has been exploring how to get high quality food to our community. Over the past five months we have met with local farmers, local businesses and interested residents.
We would like to share with the larger community what we have learned, what we are doing, and prospective plans for the future. Please join us, ask questions and share your ideas.
Member, Oriental Food Initiative
The Oriental Food Initiative had planned the January 27 meeting several weeks before the announcement of the Walmart Express closing. More on the meeting is in What’s Happening.
I have followed and read with interest all of the letters about the Walmart closing. I would like to propose an alternative solution that I firmly believe would work really well in Oriental.
There is clearly a need for a grocery store in the town to serve the locals and the visitors, maintain the long term viability of the town and preserve property prices.
I believe it may be difficult for any single business owner to invest enough in the town because of the risk of the next chain moving back in as part of an ‘experiment’.
What I would like to propose is a cooperative-based business to manage and run a store that serves the need of the community. We would pull together a group of interested parties from across the town, the local area and from visitors who would buy shares in the business to cover the operating expenses for an initial period of time.
The group would elect a board and chairperson from the shareholders who would appoint a paid manager to run the store on a daily basis. Shareholders could buy in at a very low cost and would receive an appropriate discount from the store when they shopped there.
Prices of goods would be maintained as low as possible to serve the community while maintaining the long term viability of the store. Profits from the store would be split between the appointed employees, the shareholders and good causes in the town as voted on by the group.
The store would specifically not compete with any existing small businesses in the town, but they would be invited to be part of the advisory committee to ensure the range of products sold was complimentary to theirs.
I think the location and character of Oriental lends itself perfectly to this kind of venture. I am not lucky enough yet to be a resident, but visit the town at weekends whenever I can and only want to see the town continue to be successful.
If there is any interest from anyone in pursuing this further I would be happy to coordinate the initial meeting.
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