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Michigan residents rally to save grocery

MICHIGAN, N.D. - Residents of this northeastern North Dakota community of 350 people are trying to revive the town's only grocery store. Johner's Fairway closed May 30, and its shelves were bare for the first time in 125 years. The Michigan Job D...

MICHIGAN, N.D. - Residents of this northeastern North Dakota community of 350 people are trying to revive the town's only grocery store.

Johner's Fairway closed May 30, and its shelves were bare for the first time in 125 years.

The Michigan Job Development Authority is conducting a drive to raise money to buy the property and equipment. The space and equipment would be available rent-free to any interested grocer.

"We're seeking someone to run it as a private operation," Mayor Allen Orwick said. "If we're unsuccessful, then we'll be looking at some kind of community ownership."

The Michigan Job Development Authority, Nelson County Job Development Authority and Red River Regional Council are getting a $70,000 federal grant.

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Orwick said more than $50,000 in matching money has already been raised.

While the effort continues, Robin Wimer, who owns a supermarket in nearby Lakota, is offering her help: Once a week she will take grocery orders over the telephone and then make deliveries to homes and businesses.

"We deliver to elderly people in town, in Lakota," she said. "We'll deliver to Michigan on Wednesday afternoons."

The Michigan group has approached Wimer and other grocers in nearby communities to see if they might be interested in expanding to Michigan.

Wimer said she is too busy. Orwick said there has been some interest from other grocers, but it is early in the process.

The Michigan store had been on the market for a few years. It closed when the owners moved to South Dakota.

"It's considered such an important, vital community asset," said Julius Wangler, executive director of the Red River Regional Council.

"The importance of this project can't be underestimated. It gets to be pretty stressful if you have to drive a considerable distance for groceries."

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Orwick said officials hope to not only make the grocery facilities available rent-free but also raise enough funds to provide startup loan money at zero percent interest.

"We have to get our financing in place before we know what we can offer someone," he said.

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