MILDRED – Regena and Loren Lance have fond childhood memories of shopping at Charlie Brown’s grocery store in their tiny hometown of Mildred, Kan. Located in a building built in 1913 that once was a hardware store, feed store, garage and eventually a grocery store in the former cement boom town, Charlie Brown’s was the town’s hub even as the community dwindled after the closing of the cement company in the 1930s.
While the town diminished, the store endured. So did Regena and Loren, who married, stayed in Mildred to farm and remained loyal customers of Charlie Brown’s until it closed in 2014. But the end of Charlie Brown’s proved to be a new beginning for the local store at 86 Third St., as well as for the Lances.
Determined to re-open the store and make it the go-to destination in town once again, the Lances purchased the former Charlie Brown’s shortly after it closed, renamed it The Mildred Store, and began to breathe new life into the old building.
The Mildred Store was one of the stops on a recent tour of Allen’s County’s rural grocery stores by Sunflower Foundation staff and participants in the Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems Funders (SAFSF) Annual Forum.
According to the store’s website, www.themildredstore.com, its mission is “to bring affordable, fresh foods to our rural community and serve as the community hub.” It’s doing that and more.
No longer just a grocery store, The Mildred Store is once again a place to gather, serving as a local venue for weddings, family and class reunions and other local events. With a stage, sound system and refreshment area, the store hosts live country music every third Saturday. The adjacent Lazy Daz RV park makes it even more of a go-to destination.
The store has evolved, as well, with the creation of a website and Facebook page. REAP and Kansas Healthy Food Initiative financing helped pay for new coolers, and local COVID funds paid for additional improvements.
Still, the Lances – Regena also is a special ed teacher while Loren handles the heavy lifting on the farm – face challenges like many rural grocers. There’s the rising cost of goods and fuel, the difficulty of securing delivery to a small town, and equipment needs. They’d like to have a larger produce display case, as well as a commercial kitchen that would help them produce and package items like fresh salsa, take-and-bake meals and canned/baked goods, while also serve as a catering kitchen for the venue.
Regena’s always coming up with new ideas, and a few she’d like to bring to make happen include securing additional grant funding to buy temperature-controlled grocery lockers and trucks to get food out to communities in the region that lack grocery stores, forming a rural grocery consortium to gain purchasing power, and raising the awareness of the needs of rural communities and grocery stores and mentoring others who are looking to start rural grocery stores.
With all that the Lances already have accomplished with The Mildred Store, here’s hoping they see these new ideas through to fruition. We’re not betting against them!