Heartland Rural Electric Cooperative Helps City of Erie Secure USDA Financing for Grocery Store

The City of Erie will keep its grocery store thanks in part to zero-interest financing secured by Heartland Rural Electric Cooperative through the USDA Rural Economic Development Loan & Grant Program (REDLG).

Representatives from Heartland and Erie celebrated the closing of the loan on June 15 with a small celebration inside Erie Market.

Heartland worked with KEPCo, its generation and transmission cooperative, to apply for the $480,000 loan on behalf of the City of Erie. Under the terms of this 10-year, zero-interest loan, payments can be deferred for the first year to give the business more time to get established.

The City of Erie will use the loan to finance its purchase of the former Stubs Market, which it has been operating as Erie Market since late 2020.

Erie City Clerk Cindy Lero said the city’s journey to owning a grocery store began two-and-a-half years ago when the owners of Stubs Market approached city leaders with a concern.

“They wanted to retire, and they had not been able to find a buyer, which is extremely hard in a small town,” Lero said.

In her research, Lero learned that many small towns are losing their grocery stores and becoming “food deserts”—places where residents lack access to affordable, nutritious foods. This is an especially pressing issue for towns such as Erie with many residents who are unable to travel out of town.

Lero started exploring the idea of the city buying the grocery store, as had happened nearby in St. Paul. A series of town meetings and then a survey were conducted to gauge citizen interest.

The results were clear: the people of Erie wanted municipal groceries.

Lero contacted the USDA Rural Development office, which in turn suggested she reach out to Heartland. Heartland had just wrapped up a REDLG loan for capital improvements at Girard Medical Center in 2019.

These loans require considerable work to get started, but the Heartland board authorized cooperative staff to help because they believed it was a worthy cause.

“This is something we could do for this community and the members of Heartland, so we were all for it,” said District 2 Director Larry Lindberg.

Lindberg’s fellow director in District 2, H. H. Stockebrand, agreed.

“It’s good for the community, and what’s good for the community is good for Heartland,” Stockebrand said.

About Heartland Rural Electric Cooperative, Inc.

Heartland Rural Electric Cooperative, Inc. powers rural lifestyles throughout more than 11,000 locations in southeast and eastern Kansas. Heartland’s service area includes consumer-members in 12 counties, including Allen, Anderson, Bourbon, Cherokee, Coffey, Crawford, Labette, Linn, Miami, Neosho, Wilson, and Woodson counties.

Heartland REC traces its roots back to three original rural electric cooperatives: Cooperative Electric Power & Light Company, Sugar Valley Electric Cooperative Association, and Sekan Electric Cooperative Association. Cooperative Electric Power & Light Company joined with Sugar Valley in 1975 to form United Electric Cooperative; United Electric Cooperative joined with Sekan Electric Cooperative Association in 1996 to form Heartland.