SCOTLAND — This town’s only grocery store changed hands this week, marking a new era for the local market during a time of increasing uncertainty for small-town groceries.
After serving Scotland for eight years, GF Buche Co. sold the CashSmart Grocery store to Jeff and Natalie Briggs. The sale marked the second transaction between the two parties, as RF Buche sold the Tripp grocery to the Plankinton couple in 2018.
With the Scotland store, Buche turned over ownership to the Briggses a week after announcing the sale.
“We officially took over on Wednesday. Inventory was calculated, papers were signed and it was a done deal,” Natalie told the Press & Dakotan.
The Briggses hosted community members that evening, combining an appreciation meal with a meet-and-greet with the new owners.
“We served BBQ pork sandwiches, baked beans, macaroni salad, chips and cookies to approximately 150 people,” Natalie said. “We enjoyed the opportunity to meet the Scotland community.”
The Briggses are no strangers to small-town groceries. They own Ron’s Market in Plankinton White Lake, Stickney, Tripp and Scotland, each with fewer than 1,000 residents.
The Briggses have changed the name of the Scotland grocery to Ron’s Market for consistency with their other stores. The hours will remain the same, Monday-Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Buche, who himself operates multiple grocery stores in south-central South Dakota, expressed confidence in the new owners.
“Jeff and Natalie will be a great fit for the town of Scotland,” he said. “They operate very successfully in small towns in the area and are known to be great community supporters. Grocery stores are the backbone of rural communities across this state, and I am confident Scotland is in great hands.”
Natalie Briggs sees the Scotland store fitting her family’s profile and business model.
“As far as our company, we are just your typical small-town grocery store with custom catering and a full bakery,” she said.
The sale of the Scotland store comes at a time of continuing change in the grocery landscape for the Yankton region and for rural communities in general.
The loss of grocery stores has created “food deserts” where residents often must travel miles to neighboring communities. The lack of a local grocery store creates a particular hardship for the elderly, handicapped, low-income, families with young children and those without a reliable form of transportation.
In some cases, the existing owners want to retire or sell the business. If a buyer cannot be found, the owner may close the store altogether.
The Yankton region has seen numerous examples during recent years. A store’s success may depend not only on the immediate population but also the trade area and marketing.
In recent decades, Yankton has experienced a changing supermarket landscape with a number of closures or other changes. The community currently contains about 15,500 residents served by two chain grocery stores and smaller outlets.
Despite the challenges, small-town groceries have survived in many rural communities despite declining populations. In some cases, multiple store ownership provides the key to making things work. Other communities are served by merchants operating a single store.
For the Briggses, the Scotland store represents the continued growth of their operation.
Jeff’s parents, Ron and Collette, opened their first store in 1991 in Plankinton and expanded to Stickney in 2008. Jeff and Natalie purchased the stores from Jeff’s parents in 2011. In 2014, the Briggs purchased the White Lake store and in 2018 they acquired the Tripp location.
Jeff and Natalie have three children – Katlyn, 20; Carter, 16; and Isabella, 9 --whom have all grown up in the stores.
“Supporting small towns is our passion and we enjoy helping the families in and around the communities we serve,” Jeff said.
After visiting Scotland several times, the Briggses liked what they saw and decided to close on the business opportunity, Natalie said.
“We really weren’t looking to purchase another store, but the Scotland community members won us over,” she said. “We’re excited to join the Scotland community.”
The new owners are making changes that turn the building into not only a store but also a community hub, Natalie said.
“We removed the shelving where the hardware items were and put tables and chairs,” she said. “We will be installing coffee pots and fountain pop for customers in that area also. Our vision is to offer a place where customers can gather with friends and neighbors around a cup of coffee and visit with each other.”
The joint ownership of more stores means greater purchasing power, Natalie said.
“With five stores now, we will be purchasing more pallet items and splitting them between our locations,” she said. “When we purchase items by pallets, we are able to lock in some extra savings and pass that along to our customers.”
As the new owners of the Scotland store, the Briggses believe they have found a good addition to their other markets.
“We’re excited for this opportunity to join the Scotland community,” Jeff said. “After visiting with community members and visiting Scotland several times, we decided Scotland would be a good fit with our other small hometown grocery stores.”
Natalie encourages people to stop at the store and meet them.
“We love small towns. All our locations are in small towns,” she said. “We’ve grown up in small towns and wanted our kids to be raised up in small towns also. Our customers in our locations are our friends and neighbors, and we wouldn’t want it any other way.”
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