LAKE ANDES — During his first week in business, grocer Dan Cahoy received more than payment from his customers.
He also received an outpouring of appreciation from area residents, happy the town of 820 residents had a grocery for the first time since last fall.
"We’ve been receiving all sorts of compliments from people. I’ve had a lot of people tell me they’re so glad that we’re open in their town," he said.
"People are telling me how important it is and how much they appreciate it. It’s so cool to hear that."
Lake Andes’ only grocery closed last fall when the previous owner was unable to sell the store. As a result, Lake Andes residents found the closest grocery store in Wagner, 17 miles away.
Lake Andes residents and others sought to form a community corporation as a way of re-opening the store.
As part of the process, they met with Cahoy — who owns the only grocery store in Bonesteel — to gather information about his SpartanNash wholesaler. They talked with the supplier about servicing the Lake Andes store.
In a twist of fate, Cahoy ended up purchasing the Lake Andes store.
"I wasn’t thinking about buying another grocery store, but then this opened up as an opportunity," he said. "I saw the need, and Lake Andes is a good-sized community with the potential for the store to do well."
Cahoy and his wife, Trisha, bought the store and named it Cahoy’s General Store. A sign on the store front signifies the new ownership.
"We closed the deal March 3, and we opened May 5, so we were able to get things done in two months," Dan said. "The first week (since we opened) has been steady busy."
Even the slower times have been busy. One afternoon, Cahoy helped unload a shipment that arrived at the store. He also made sure the produce was replenished and the shelves remained stocked.
"We have promotions like our Milk Mondays, but we emphasize that we offer fresh meat and produce," he said.
The customer base covers not only Lake Andes but also surrounding communities such as Pickstown and Ravinia, Cahoy said.
The re-opening of the Lake Andes store also comes at an important time, he added.
"We have more people in the area this spring and summer, especially with our location (near the Missouri River)," he said. "Both Bonesteel and Lake Andes are near campers and fishermen who want groceries, especially things like produce and meat."
Two major upcoming weekends — Memorial Day and the annual Fish Days celebration —should boost the business at the Lake Andes store.
The Cahoys are no strangers to the grocery business, as the family has owned and operated a store in Bonesteel — a town of 300 residents — for three decades.
In 1986, Cahoy’s General Store was opened by Dan’s parents, Steve and Kathy Cahoy.
"My parents owned Cahoy’s until 2008, when they decided to close because we had two grocery stores in town," Dan said. "Then, in 2009, the other store had a fire and the people decided not to re-open. Bonesteel was without a grocery, so our family decided to re-open their store."
Dan and Trisha were living in Rapid City at the time. They moved to Bonesteel to help with the re-opened grocery store.
The decision was based on personal as well as business reasons, Dan said.
"I grew up in a small town. There are things like the low cost of living and the friendliness of the people," he said. "We’re also a big family, and it’s important being back with family. We have family members working for me in the business. I think all those things are important parts of living in a small town."
Besides their work at the family grocery store, the Cahoys also held second jobs. Until recently, Dan worked as branch manager at First Fidelity Bank in Bonesteel. Trisha teaches second grade with the South Central school district.
In October 2011, Dan and Trisha Cahoy took over the grocery business. Steve Cahoy manages the store.
Dan usually worked from 6-9 a.m. at the store before starting his workday at the bank. He then returned to the store and often worked until 10 or 11 p.m.
Dan recently resigned his bank position. He wanted to focus on remodeling and other work in preparing the Lake Andes store, along with the added responsibility of owning and operating two stores.
Much of the remodeling consisted of cosmetic work, Cahoy said. The tile floor needed updating, and the walk-in cooler and freezer needed work. In addition, he opened up the produce area.
"I usually put in 12-hour days (during the past two months), but it wasn’t bad," he said with a grin. "I drive the 32 miles between Bonesteel and Lake Andes each day, but that’s the same time you would commute in the cities."
Because the Lake Andes store was closed for several months, Cahoy was faced with a need to hire employees for his re-opening of the operation.
"We hired new employees, but we also use people from our Bonesteel store," he said. "I think I’ll eventually hire an assistant manager in Lake Andes."
Cahoy’s General Store in Lake Andes will be open seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Based on his previous experiences, Cahoy holds optimism about the future of both grocery stores.
"The store in Bonesteel that we re-opened slowly grew and expanded," she said. "Both of our stores use the SpartanNash brand, which is different than most of the other stores around here."
The re-opening of the Lake Andes store represents the latest chapter in the resurgence of small-town markets in southeast South Dakota.
Menno, a Hutchinson County community of 650 residents, faced the prospect of losing its only grocery store when the owner was unable to sell it. The Menno Development Corporation held an investment drive to keep the store open with a manager.
After seven years of that arrangement, the store was sold to Total Stop. The owners, Canistota grocers Jeff and Janine Nielsen, relocated the grocery store along U.S. Highway 18.
More recently, the operators abruptly closed stores in Scotland, Tripp and Tyndall. The landlord, Wagner grocer R.F. Buche, re-opened the stores under the Cash Smart name emphasizing a no-frills operation and lower costs.
The stores were the only grocery in those towns. Tyndall has about 1,100 residents; Scotland about 800 residents and Tripp about 630.
In addition, the Freeman Shopping Center recently added Ace Hardware to its complex of a grocery, pharmacy and separately-owned Subway sandwich franchise. Freeman, a town of 1,300 residents, has two grocery stores.
Regardless of the community, some basic things make for a successful supermarket, Cahoy said.
"You have to be creative in your market," he said. "But it also comes down to keeping the store clean and offering friendly service. It makes a big difference if you keep those things up."
One other ingredient remains crucial, Cahoy said. "It’s pretty important to have that local support. If you don’t have it, then you have nothing," he said.
Cahoy sees himself as an active part of both the Bonesteel and Lake Andes communities. It’s all a matter of working together to help small towns survive, he said.
"I’m not working just for my own business but also for the other small businesses in the community, to make everybody grow," he said.
"In small towns, if you help the other guy, he’ll help you."
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