A year after the closure of Cash Wise – the last remaining “hometown grocer” in Waseca – the city is evaluating options to fill the food retail gap.
“From the time Cash Wise announced they were closing, people were immediately concerned about not having a grocer here,” said Gary Sandholm, the city’s economic development coordinator, adding that the Feb. 28, 2020 closure of the store was also on the cusp of the COVID-19 pandemic, putting any potential discussion of a replacement for the grocery chain on pause. “With COVID, people weren’t moving around that much and the normal dynamics were not in play, yet the need did not go away.”
Last month, the city sent out a grocery survey to residents to “determine the pulse of the community” and their grocery needs, Sandholm said. Because they have continually heard from residents that another grocer is wanted in the city, Sandholm said they need more information in order to “entice” a grocer to actually come.
“We launched the survey as a way to get an idea of an interest for another store and also to see what people are spending on groceries,” Sandholm said, noting that the only option for groceries within the city is currently Walmart. “This way, a grocery can have an idea of the true market potential.”
Sandholm said Walmart is a huge competitor with grocers, stating he believes it could be one of the reasons Cash Wise was unable to make it to the two-year mark since first opening in 2018. Though the prices at Walmart can be tough to compete with, Sandholm said there is a certain variety and quality that grocers can provide over the multinational chain of hypermarkets.
However, the question remains on whether a new grocer will simply fall to the same fate as Cash Wise when the store stepped in to fill the hole left by Hy-Vee. When Hy-Vee announced they would be closing on Sept. 30, 2018, after serving the Waseca community in same location on State Street for 30 years, Cobron’s, Inc. – the parent company of Cash Wise – quickly hopped on the opportunity to fill the space. Only 17 days passed between the closure of Hy-Vee and the grand opening of Cash Wise.
Despite a quick turnaround, though, Cash Wise was unable to draw in the customer base needed to keep the doors open. Sandholm said the competition from Walmart certainly played a role in the lack of traffic generated at Cash Wise, noting that the chain had already drawn some of Hy-Vee’s customers to the south side of town prior to their closure.
Whether that will continue to be the case if a new grocer moves in is yet to be determined.
“It is a complex game,” Sandholm said. “There is certainly enough market here for a grocer to do well, but it’s about what the local market wants and if it will be enough to make it worthwhile.”
Currently, the city is sifting through the surveys that were collected last month and plan to present the information to the city council at an upcoming meeting. Sandholm said they may realize there is more information still needed before considering approaching different grocers, groups or investors that might be interested in helping address the local need.
Though there is a lot of information to go through, Sandholm did confirm that more than 95% of the respondents identified that they desired another grocer to come to town. Aside from Walmart, there are a handful of convenience stores such as Kwik Trip located in town that provide limited grocery options as well.
Cash Wise Liquor has continued to operate in the Waseca location following the closure of the grocery store.