Community sentiment for a successor to South Frankfort institution Pic-Pac is admirable, but a successful downtown grocery store will require more than warm and fuzzy words by city commissioners and Facebook posts of good intentions by residents.

It will require a complete rewiring of consumer habits and preferences to beat tall odds against a profitable business model.

Danny Bryant, who surely deserves an award for selflessness, did the community — but not himself — a huge favor last year by agreeing to keep Pic-Pac’s doors open a while longer. The flood of community support after his closure announcement was too much for Danny to ignore. Those who know him weren’t at all surprised by the change of heart.

What we learned, predictably, was that the crowded aisles and long checkout lines in the weeks that followed were an emotional high that sprang more from hearts than wallets. Reality soon set back in and Bryant this week returned to the decision that he should have stuck to a year ago but for his big soft spot for Frankfort.

There are steep challenges for all locally owned and operated businesses in the modern economy, but a grocery store might be the toughest of all. Consumers today want their groceries quick, cheap and convenient, and they want a dizzying variety to choose from. (Chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream aren’t enough. We need our coconut raspberry and chocolate chip cookie dough, too.)

We don’t even want to go inside the store anymore — a far cry from the days when the weekly trip to the grocery store was a big part of the social fabric in small towns like Frankfort. Now we want to place our orders over the internet, pull up to the supermarket chain store and pop the trunk for the baggers to load them.

Small grocers can’t possibly keep up with the big boys’ technological bells and whistles and stay remotely competitive on price. That Danny Bryant kept Pic-Pac going as long as he did is a testament to his tireless work ethic and business acumen.  

Unless city commissioners have something radical in mind like taxpayer subsidization of a downtown grocery store, they would be better served by further partnering with the Franklin County Farmers Market to maximize its services and offerings. Programs like the South Frankfort Food Share will be more critical than ever for low-income citizens.

Better-heeled consumers who want a downtown grocery store would have to put their money where their mouth is and convince all their friends and neighbors to do the same. If every middle- and upper-income household in South Frankfort committed to buy all of their groceries at a downtown market, such a venture might be sustainable. With a big emphasis on might.

 Steve Stewart is publisher of The State Journal. His email address is steve.stewart@state-journal.com.

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