By Bridgett Hernandez
For a small community, a grocery store has the power to bring people together, but sometimes “you have to lose your grocery store or your gas station before you appreciate it,” said Wilmer Delagrange, Grabill Town Council president.
This was the situation Grabill found itself in, in 2005. Amish resident Elmer Lengacher said the town was headed in the wrong direction.
“Our grocery store left, the gas station closed up, businesses were closing up left and right in this town,” he said.
Concerned members of the community – both Amish and non-Amish – came together to discuss possible solutions for bringing a grocery store back to the community and getting the town back on the right track.
At one community meeting, the idea of pooling resources to create a co-op grocery store was proposed, Lengacher said. As a result, 86 families each put $5,000 forward to get the ball rolling. A year later, the investors opened a Save-A-Lot.
“This is where the Amish and the non-Amish – we call them ‘English’ – work together,” he said. “This community is strong on working with each other. We need each other.”
The Save-A-Lot in Grabill was the first in the chain to open under a co-op, Delagrange said. In talks with the chain, he said Save-A-Lot considers the Grabill location its most successful operation out of 1,200 stores.
“It’s turned our whole town around,” he said.
The venture was such a success, the same group of investors decided to invest in a second community grocery store, Grabill Country Sales, a bulk food retailer offering Amish-made foods and goods. The store is located right next door to the Save-A-Lot.
“You would think that Grabill Country Sales would be in direct competition with the Save-A-Lot, but they’re not,” Lengacher said. “They feed off of one another.”
Lengacher, who is on the board of directors that oversees both stores, said the success of the Save-A-Lot has opened doors for Amish and non-Amish people to find ways to work together. These partnerships have splintered off into other cooperative ventures.
Lengacher is excited about Grabill’s future and the partnerships that have yet to be realized. A few ideas that he’s hoping to make a reality include a restaurant and hotel “in the Amish fad” as well as a concept he’s calling “dinner on wheels,” a horse-drawn buggy ride that tours the Grabill countryside while its riders dine.
(Bridgett Hernandez is a reporter for Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly. Read this article in full and find a related article about Amish entrepreneurs in LaGrange County at fwbusiness.com.)