Scott and Amy Welch of Our Market once again approached Allen County commissioners in search of support in their venture to launch a butcher shop and grocery store in Humboldt.
Our Market, which would open in the space formerly occupied by Moon’s Market, is “about a month away” from opening up butchering operations for hogs, beef and deer, reported Scott Welch.
Demand for their services is high, say the Welches. “I’ve got 40 animals already lined up to butcher as soon as we open,” said Scott. Amy added, “You have animals that are fat and are sitting in pastures. They’re losing value” and need to be processed.
But while the butcher shop is slated to open by early December, the Welches are looking for additional funding from the county to bring the grocery store online. “We still have a shortfall on funding, and that’s why we’re here today,” said Scott.
In their efforts to bring a grocery store back to Humboldt, the Welches have applied for grants, taken out loans and made use of their own finances. Scott also listed several businesses that have provided assistance, among them B&W Trailer Hitches, Monarch Cement, and Hofer & Hofer. Monarch Cement owns the building, which it purchased in late 2018 in an attempt to ensure the viability of Moon’s Market. Thrive Allen County, Humboldt Community Growth, Inc. (HUGRO), A Bolder Humboldt and the City of Humboldt have also been assisting the Welches, who now lease the building from Monarch.
Humboldt has been without a grocery store since February 2019, when Mike and Lori Moon announced both the Humboldt and LaCygne stores would close. The Moons had operated the Humboldt store since 2006, when they acquired the old Humboldt IGA from Wally Hart.
The Welches view any funds awarded by the Allen County commission as an investment. “Whatever support the county commissioners give to Our Grocery, the county will get that money back and then some in return sales tax,” Scott Welch told the Register.
Welch sees Our Market as a way to reclaim dollars now spent outside Allen County. “There’s nothing in Humboldt for the 2,500 residents besides Dollar General, so a lot of people end up going to Chanute. That’s money going out the door.”
In a market study completed by Associated Wholesale Grocers, the same wholesaler which sells to G&W Foods, AWG estimated approximately 40% of Humboldt residents now purchase their groceries in Chanute.
Cole Herder, Humboldt administrator, said the loss in sales tax from Moon’s is approximately $20,000 per year for the county and $30,000 for the City of Humboldt. “We’ve already lost two years of that sales tax,” Herder lamented.
Scott and Amy Welch have already firmed up an agreement with Associated Wholesale Grocers, which would provide the inventory and rack system early next year. A fully operational grocery store and butcher shop would likely create 10-13 jobs, according to the Welches.
Amy Welch, a Humboldt native, is eager to emphasize the importance of each town having its own grocery store. “Right now, if Dollar General is out of milk in Humboldt, there’s no milk for families here,” she said. “We’ve had so many conversations about how the lack of a grocery store in Humboldt has changed how people eat here.”
Herder sees a new grocery store in Humboldt as a vital service to Humboldt residents, noting, “There’s a widespread movement across the country that now sees grocery stores as very important parts of infrastructure that serve the community. It’s important to the health and well-being of the community.” Herder points to community efforts in Erie, Caney and St. Paul as part of this trend, one where local governments have stepped in to financially support grocery stores.
Commissioner Jerry Daniels, whose district includes Humboldt, is of the same mindset. “The grocery store has been a need ever since we lost Moon’s. I’ve heard from so many citizens pleading to get a grocery store back.
“We’ll discuss it more next week, and we’ll see what the other commissioners think,” said Daniels. “I support it, but we’ll need to see what we can do as a county to help make them [the Welches] successful and bring a badly-needed grocery store to Humboldt.”
LaCygne, where the other Moon’s grocery store closed, offers a cautionary tale. The town has been unable to replace its grocery store, though not for lack of trying. “The Spot” was a local grocery store that opened this July in an attempt to fill the gap left by Moon’s. It closed its doors last month. Residents now are left to choose between a Dollar General or head out of town. Half an hour to the north, Louisburg has a Price Chopper, while Pleasanton, 18 miles to the south, has a grocery store as well.
If Our Market is able to launch its grocery operation, they’ll have competition. Two Dollar Generals, Marmaton Market, two Wal-Marts and two G&W Foods locations all within thirty minutes of the store.
Still, she’s confident Humboldt residents want to spend their dollars locally and having “fresh, local meat from our butcher shop will set us apart. Plus, having a manager who’s been in the business for years will also be a huge advantage.”
Welch was referring to Devin Donaldson, who worked at Moon’s Hometown Market and previously served as a manager at G&W Foods. Donaldson also worked at grocery stores in Chanute and Cherryvale.
The Welches know they can’t depend solely on outside funding sources. “We’re ready to open up the butcher shop,” says Scott Welch. Without county support, the couple will “keep applying for grants and other options, but we’ll run the butcher shop until we raise enough money for the grocery. But that may be six months, or a year at least, until we get the available funds.”
“We’re not asking for a handout,” says Amy Welch. We’re asking for them to support us so that we can be here long-term for the community.”
The Welches are hoping for a decision from county commissioners next week. It will likely be a busy meeting, as commissioners will also certify results from yesterday’s election.