Vinton County, Long A Food Desert, Welcomes First Grocery Store In Years
As cashiers greet shoppers and carts squeak across the floors of Campbell’s Market, this Wednesday morning has the air of a celebration. It's opening day in McArthur.
“We haven’t had a grocery store in four years," says Kelly Covery. "This is awesome."
Covery and her husband Greg share the sentiments of every shopper at Campbell's Market, and of Vinton County's 13,000 residents. For them, fresh produce is now just a two minute drive from home.
Though filled with farm fields, Vinton qualifies as a food desert. That means it's a low-income area with a significant share of residents who are more than 20 miles away from the nearest supermarket.
For years, the 414-square-mile county has gone entirely without a grocery store. With the help of government grants, a local entrepreneur has finally brought one to this rural Ohio town.
“Just to be able to buy fresh stuff without having to go out of town, because it takes like usually 30 minutes for us to go get something fresh to eat, so this is great,” Covery says.
That's far from the only inconvenience of living in a county with no grocery store.
“The travel is one," Covery says. "Gas money, the time, not having anything fresh when the kids want it. Strawberries, bananas, things like that.”
According to the Census Bureau, 20.7 percent of Vinton County's residents live in poverty. The county’s median income stands at $40,680 – that's $10,000 below the state’s median income.
The small, low-income population dissuaded commercial chains from setting up shop here. Vinton's last grocery store, SuperValu, closed in 2013.
“We couldn’t believe there was no grocery store in this whole county for almost four years,” says market co-owner Rick Campbell.
To help build the 12,000-square-foot store, the Healthy Food for Ohio initiative provided around $1.6 million dollars in state and local grants and loans.
“Without that program, this project could not have happened,” Campbell says.
Campbell, who owns two other locations in Muskingum County, says he looked into the community need by talking to people on the street. Campbell’s Market broke ground on the store in March, and construction started in June.
Campbell says the store will make a big difference in the access residents have to nutritious food like fresh produce and cuts of meat.
John McQuirt walks up and down the aisles, browsing the merchandise, checking the prices.
“I usually go to Wellston or Jackson, and it’s like 30 miles round-trip,” McQuirt says. “Sometimes it’s not feasible, but you gotta do what you gotta do.”
If the prices are comparable to Walmart, where McQuirt shops now, he’ll switch over permanently.
“Or if I need something in a hurry, it’s convenient," McQuirt says. "It’s right here, I live across the road.”
Toni Williams and her husband guide their cart up an aisle. She cooks, and he does the shopping. Now, he doesn't have to drive up to 40 minutes for a bag of potatoes.
“I’ll be glad to have a place where we can get potatoes, groceries, celery and carrots,” Williams says. “You know, Dollar General has some things, but it’s not like a real grocery store.”
The store was originally scheduled to welcome customers in August, but inspections delayed the opening. Campbell's Market is having the usual opening week hiccups, too. Trouble with a credit card processor meant people couldn’t use EBT cards until around noon.
But groceries are back in Vinton County. After just one day on the books, Vinton residents hope this grocery store will be around for many more.
“We’re just happy to get the doors open for them and us both,” Campbell says.