The Free Press, Mankato, MN

July 15, 2012

Three small-town grocery stores abruptly close

By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer

— The towns of Truman, Kiester and Elysian have lost their sole grocery stores, leaving residents rueful and wondering what to do next.

“It was a shock to everyone. There was no indication this would happen,” Kiester Mayor Jeanne Brooks said.

“It’s just terrible; I’m just devastated,” added Elysian City Administrator Pat Nusbaum. “It’s something we need in this town.”

The three stores, owned by Brad Gohla of Elysian, abruptly closed June 30, leaving city officials to ponder possible solutions to keep the stores operational.

Last week, bankers with a lien on the Kiester store were selling off its perishable inventory, with similar actions taking place in the other towns.

Brooks and Nusbaum said they hope the stores can remain operational by attracting new buyers or lessees. Brooks said if that doesn’t happen in Kiester she’d prefer that the city take over operation, as it did about four years ago before Gohla began leasing the building from the city.

However, she allows that city operation of the store in the town of 500 residents would be a greater cost than taxpayers could bear.

She said Kiester’s population skews elderly, which heightens the impact of the store’s closing because getting groceries now requires a 32-mile round trip to Wells.

The situation is similar in the 650-resident Elysian, where shoppers now must go to Waseca or Mankato.

Nusbaum said grocery businesses have existed in Elysian since the late 1800s.

“This is just terrible. I don’t know what we’re going to do.” She said city operation of the store isn’t a viable solution.

Truman City Clerk-Treasurer Monte Rohman said a public meeting likely will be held soon to gain input on possible solutions. He said the nearest grocery to Truman is in Fairmont, 10 miles away. 

Brooks is candid about Gohla’s unannounced store abandonment.

“It was a cowardly act that he did in not notifying the city or the store’s employees.”

Gohla, when asked by a reporter about his plans for the stores, said only, “We closed,” and made no further comment.