Communities and citizens cooperating
The small community of Stapleton, Nebraska had enjoyed a grocery store for more than 100 years.
Henry and Mable Ewoldt purchased Well’s Cash Store situated on the north side of Main Street in 1946. After renovations, January, 1947 they operated the business which also included a locker, a creamery and a feed store. Their son, Alfred, joined them when he returned from the Navy in 1954.
In 1962, they closed the creamery and feed store to increase their dry goods and offer western wear clothing. Allen, the third generation, joined the family business in 1974 graduating from high school. Their locker in the back of the grocery offered ranchers a place to have their home-grown livestock processed.
Dennis and Rose Barner had Denny’s Store on the south side of Main Street which they purchased from John and Faye Beckius in May 1967. Both stores supplied the grocery needs of the residents as well as visitors.
Denny’s closed in 1999 but Ewoldt’s Grocery continued. Allen purchased the Thedford grocery store in 2001 and for almost seven years, commuted between the two, round trip almost 75 miles on a near daily basis. Alfred helped at the Stapleton store until he retired in 2007. Allen’s three children helped after school and in the summer, but none returned to the business full time. Allen had married his high school sweetheart, Mary Jodeman, but due to health reasons, she was unable to help him much. Mary passed away in 2008, and in 2009, Allen closed his store in Stapleton.
Knowing Ewoldt’s was closing, Maxine Lovitt, her son, Max, his wife, Diane and family members jumped in to invest in, build and open the Stapleton Main Street Market and Deli in 2008.
Due to her health and age, Maxine now 95, closed the store in September, 2015. Some community members resolved to pick up what she started and worked to form a cooperative. “It was sixteen months of long, hard work and drive, but we could not be prouder, we have groceries back for sale,” said Heather Harwager, president of the 10-member board of directors. They raised funds by the selling of shares at $500 to re-open the store under its new moniker ‘Stapleton Cooperative Market & Deli.’ The board had help from Jim Crandall of Holdrege, Cooperative Business Development Specialist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Cooperative Development Center. They also provided the time and labor force to clean, repaint and restock. With the help of energy efficient grants, new coolers and freezers were purchased.
While 305 shares have been sold, they are still available for sale. “Don and Judy Christofferson bought the building, then sold it to a new owner, who graciously is allowing us to use it rent free, thus the need to sell more shares so we can purchase the building and finish updating,” said board member and fellow store owner, Cindy Frey, who along with her husband Steve, own and operate Frey’s General Store and Propane, also on the south side of Main street.
Groceries are being provided by Allen and wife, Velma, who had worked with him for years as his manager of the Thedford store. Love bloomed and the two were married in September, 2015. They will start of making two trips a week to keep the Stapleton store stocked. “It will help me as I have to buy by the case. A case of skim milk would sour before it all got sold so there would be a loss. With two stores hopefully that will not happen.”
The new store had a ‘sneak preview’ on Sunday, March 12 for two hours. Main street was packed with cars and over 200 visitors came and enjoyed the refreshments and many bought groceries. Some of the shoppers and onlookers included Alfred and Claire Ewoldt, and Maxine Lovitt and son Max. “Our hours will be Monday to Friday, 9 to 7, Saturday, 9 to 5 and Sunday, 11 to 3,” stated Pam Schaeffer, treasurer of the board. “Allen says Sunday is one of his best days, so we’ll see. Our deli has a lot to offer with specialty drinks, sandwiches and wraps.”
Store manager, Amanda Weems is excited to be working closer to home. She lives in Stapleton, driving to work in North Platte working in retail for several years. She is looking forward to the commute of blocks to work instead of miles, especially with a daughter that will be starting school in Stapleton. Weems will oversee nine part-time employees, several who had worked at the store alongside Maxine.
Harwager wanted to emphasis, “One does not need to buy a share to shop here, anyone and everyone is welcomed to buy their groceries, get a cup of coffee, meet your friends for lunch. We are so grateful for the support we are receiving. We just want to encourage to shop locally.”
Stapleton indeed knows where it has been and more importantly, where they are going when it comes to feeding the residents of their community and the world. Stapleton is one of Nebraska’s ‘epicenters’ for the Total Solar Eclipse happening Monday, August 21. Stapleton Cooperative Market and Deli, its board and staff will help welcome visitors with a wide variety of groceries, home supplies and especially, great hometown hospitality – good commodities to have in a small town. F