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The Family Thrift Center on Omaha Street is one of three local grocery stores scheduled to close their doors soon. 

Hannah Hunsinger, Journal staff

Some call it an opportunity, while others see it as a problem — particularly for low-income residents who don’t have transportation.

As soon as October, Rapid City could lose three grocery stores, including two in the downtown area as well as one on the west side of town. The decision by SpartanNash to close the stores and consolidate its operations in two other stores has raised concerns from people like Mary Corbine, the food security manager of Feeding South Dakota who told the Journal the decision “will impact a lot of people and not just the people who are food insecure.”

The response from the city has been to put a more positive spin on the announced closures of FTC Express on Sturgis Road, the Family Thrift Center on Omaha Street and Prairie Market on York Street.

Mayor Steve Allender called it an “opportunity” and “that there are many reasons, in my mind, to be positive about it as there are negatives.” Ben Snow, the president of the Rapid City Economic Development Partnership, expressed similar sentiments.

Both Allender and Snow said they could see a day when a grocery store comes to either Main or St. Joseph Street that would help fill that void and meet the needs of the growing number of young people who live in downtown Rapid City.

Unfortunately, that won't help those who could soon find themselves no longer within walking distance — all stores are well over one mile from a supermarket — of a grocery store as winter approaches.

If the city wants to view closures or vacant retail space as opportunities, it is safe to say that Rapid City is becoming the land of opportunity. Retail space is available downtown, in the strip mall at Baken Park and on the west and north sides of Rapid City — in some cases for months.

If the city sees the closure of the grocery stores as something potentially positive, it needs to do something positive to make that happen. It should not simply wait for a suitor to come courting.

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Economic development — and in this case meeting a clear need, as well — requires a pro-active approach. The city needs to consider recruiting a supermarket for downtown Rapid City or create an environment where food markets owned by local merchants can have a chance to flourish.

It is not unprecedented for the city to incentivize businesses to come to Rapid City or encourage developers to build in the community. While it didn't work out, the most recent example is President's Plaza where Vision Funds and tax-increment financing were approved to take advantage of the opportunity at the intersection of St. Joseph and 5th streets. The city has used these economic-development tools in the past with varying degrees of success, including offering incentives to bring Cabela's to Rapid City.

If as city Planning Manager Vicki Fisher says "this could very well be a positive for the community as a whole," the city needs to make a concerted effort to bring a grocery store to downtown Rapid City as the "whole" also includes those who depend on those stores.

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