By Bill Krikac, Clark County Courier
Willow Lake Area Advancement didn’t intend to go into the grocery business.
“It fell into our lap,” explained Kristin Vandersnick, WLAA president, about Lake Grocery.
The situation in 2010 was dire for the community of Willow Lake: Either they come up with financing, or they go without a grocery store.
“The building and equipment had previously reverted back to Dacotah Bank, and with no future buyers in line, they decided to give the building to the WLAA in 2009,” Vandersnick said. “We leased it for a year and after that decided to run it as a community store. It was a leap of faith as a community group and has worked out very well. We give much credit to our great employees. We couldn’t do it without those hard-working ladies.”
Since taking that leap of faith in 2010, store manager Deb Holmstrom said the business has been doing very well. She works full-time, and the store also has two part-time employees, plus some volunteers.
“We’ve slowly been able to make some upgrades,” Vandersnick said. “Last year we added a five-door freezer, and with the help of a generous donation, the front of the building was redone and a new ramp/sidewalk added. We’re so grateful for the community support and our local shoppers.”
Homstrom said Lake Grocery rents the building from the WLAA.
“The WLAA board is made up of area community members, so in a way, I guess you could say our store is community owned,” said Holmstrom. “Being a non-profit organization, this arrangement helps us keep the doors open without the pressure of having to turn over a big profit if it was individually owned. We make enough to pay our bills and employees
and keep the store going. We also rent out a corner of our store as a gift shop, Out on a Limb owned by Kristin Vandersnick. The rent helps support the store as well as offer more local shopping in a gift shop capacity for Willow Lake.”
Holmstrom continued, “As we pay rent to the WLAA, that money in turn can be used for new business loans and improvements for the Willow Lake area. A grocery store is definitely needed in our small town and no one wanted to see the doors close for good, which may have happened had we not gone with this arrangement.
“A lot of volunteer work went into our renovations, too.” Holmstrom said. “We have a really nice store here.”