Support us with Kachingle!
October 8, 2009 | 12:00 a.m. CST
POPULATION: 723 | MILES FROM COLUMBIA: 37
Hundreds of rural towns dot the mid-Missouri landscape; seldom do they contain more than 500 people, but their residents have a strong understanding of identity and community. Vox ventures outside Columbia’s city limits to take snapshots of life in 12 close-knit towns. Like flies on the wall, our reporters watched, listened, reflected and learned what it means to have a sense of place in the heart of America.
Main Street Grocery Store belongs in a ghost town. Inside the nearly empty building, metal shopping carts stand neatly aligned, waiting for customers. The occasional T-shirt, tin can and pill bottle dot the aisles. But a grocery store is only useful when it’s open, and for almost two years now, this one hasn’t been.
Less than half a mile away, Casey’s General Store is as busy as the grocery store is dead. Wearing a tucked-in red polo with her face hidden under a brown bob, Kristie Twenter spends most of her days nestled somewhere between a cash register and a whole lot of chewing tobacco. As the assistant manager of Casey’s, Twenter knows the prices of all the products and the names of everyone who buys them, but she also knows better than to shop here.
“We have to jack the prices way up,” Twenter says, shaking her head. “But when it comes to buying stuff, this is it.”
Like every Casey’s, the one at 104 Harris Street is intended for a handful of specific purposes — primarily providing cars with gas and their owners with snacks. It was never meant to provide for the entire 700-plus town, but for longer than most residents expected, Casey’s has been trying — and struggling — to fill the gap left by the bankrupt Main Street grocery store. For Twenter and families such as hers, what was once a frequent, five-minute trip has turned into a once-a-week, 25-minute trek to Boonville’s Super Walmart to buy groceries that are no longer available in Pilot Grove.
“Looking for dinner?” Twenter quizzes a blue-jeaned patron in a lilting, slightly accented voice. The reply is affirmative — and then incredulous.
“Whoa, $3.99? Holy crap! These went way up in price.”
Although Twenter’s own response is a neutral “Mhmmm,” the convenience store’s milk capacity alone has increased from four to 15 gallons twice a week to compensate for those who don’t make an out-of-town shopping trip.
And for now, hope for a replacement store is fading. One potential buyer has already come and gone. “It’s a great big problem,” Twenter says.