'Food desert' no more; Vinton County to get a grocery store

By Tyler Buchanan, Vinton County Courier

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Washington, October 28, 2016 | comments
After sporting the label of "food desert" for years, Vinton County is finally getting a grocery store.
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After sporting the label of "food desert" for years, Vinton County is finally getting a grocery store.

The news was confirmed by the Vinton County Commissioners on Friday afternoon, who for months have been working with the Campbell family of Zanesville to bring a store to McArthur.

In an interview with The Courier, Rick Campbell also confirmed the news on Friday that a store is indeed coming.

The new store will feature fresh produce and meat. The store will employ around 30 people, Campbell said. Construction on the 12,000 square foot store is projected to begin next spring. The venture will include Campbell and his sons, Rick Jr. and Mike.

While the news mirrors prior close calls with securing a grocery store, the Campbells have taken further, more tangible steps than in previous cases. It has taken several months involving county and state officials, but an agreement is officially in place.

A package was offered through the state's Healthy Food Financing Initiative, which was budgeted to help "food desert" communities like Vinton County afford a store. The Campbells have signed the terms of that package, a step not taken by the Sav-a-Lot entrepreneur who stated his intentions to open a store but rejected the financial assistance package offered to him in turning down a reported $750,000 package; the amount offered to the Campbells has not been disclosed.

Another step taken involves land for the store. Officials have long eyed property near the Vinton County High School owned by Emmett Conway. On Friday, the county commissioners said Conway had offered the Campbells a reduced price on that land to help secure a purchase agreement.

The Vinton County Development Department will offer a $50,000 loan to the Campbells, with payment deferred for two years, the commissioners said. Vinton County National Bank has provided undisclosed assistance as well, they said. Lastly, the commissioners say they plan to offer tax abatements when the store begins operating.

To sum up five months of negotiations, here is what it took:

    Healthy Food Financing Initiative grant for undisclosed amount. Could be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
    Cheaper deal on land purchasing agreement
    County loan for $50,000
    Finance help from Vinton County National Bank
    Offer of tax abatements

Many others have been involved in trying to bring a grocery store to Vinton County. Most notably, State Rep. Ryan Smith (R-Bidwell) has been integral in securing state funds for the Healthy Food Financing Initiative as well as guiding some toward a Vinton County project.

"Without Ryan, we would've been lost a long time ago," Commissioner Mike Bledsoe said.

Smith chairs the Ohio House of Representatives' Finance Committee.

"For three years, Vinton County has been without a grocery store and this announcement marks a major milestone in obtaining one," Smith said in a news release.

Congressman Steve Stivers (R-Upper Arlington), whose 15th district includes Vinton County, has also been credited with helping worked for getting the store.

"Today's announcement represents an important step to end the food desert," Stivers said in a news release. "This effort has been a true public-private partnership with both state and federal funding."

A host of local and regional offices have played a role, including the county's Development Department directed by Terri Fetherolf; the Vinton County Extension, which has hosted public meetings and surveys; the Vinton County Chamber of Commerce and Ohio Valley Regional Development Commission.

At the heart of local negotiations all throughout, since the day McArthur SuperValu closed in August 2013, has been the commissioner's office. Bledsoe, Jerry Zinn and Tim Eberts have been central figures through each twist and turn. They contacted countless grocers and entrepreneurs to gauge interest in opening a Vinton County store; when the Healthy Food Financing Initiative was being debated at the statehouse, Zinn personally called each of Ohio's 33 state senators to ask for their support.

All three emphasized the community will need to support the store when it opens next spring for it to survive.

Rick Campbell credits John Coler, the new owner of Shrivers Pharmacy in McArthur, with having given him the head's up on Vinton County's need for a new store. He said his family started looked into expanding their business and started receiving calls from Rep. Smith and Zinn.

It took a few months of negotiations, but one thing is for sure: the store is coming.

"We're excited to come into the community," Rick Campbell said.

The Courier will continue to update this story online and for Wednesday's print edition.

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