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When a Town’s Only Grocery Store Closes



In December 2014, the only grocery store in Utica, Mississippi, closed its doors, leaving the community in the midst of a food desert—a place with limited access to fresh foods. sat down to speak with Mayor Kenneth Broome of Utica to discuss how the community is adjusting to the lack of a grocery store and pharmacy in their town.

Utica is located about 22 miles from both Vicksburg and Jackson, Mississippi, and about 18 miles from Crystal Springs. These are the locations of the closest grocery stores to Utica. According to Mayor Broome, Utica had a Sunflower store for about 42 years in their town, but in December 2014 “our only grocery store closed and left us without a way to buy fresh fruits and vegetables.”

Utica consists of about 970 people, and the average age is over 60. Mayor Broome has said that losing the grocery store has been “really hard, because most elderly people in the town don’t have transportation. Since the store closed, they are now having to hire someone to take them to the store in a nearby town. With the loss of our grocery store, we also lost our pharmacy. Now people have to drive 20 to 25 miles to get food and medication.”

According to Mayor Broome, “the store employed about 25 people, and now they are out of jobs. The grocery store was also a big tax and revenue base for the town. Taxes and revenue from our city has really taken a hit because of the store closing.”

When asked about how the town has responded to the closing of the store and job loss, Mayor Broome said only about six people have moved out of the town. He said that most of the townspeople are driving to the closest grocery store, but that overall, so far at least, the town population has not taken too much of a blow. Mayor Broome said, “Our town is great; everyone knows each other and the crime rate is very low. We have two dollar stores and two convenience stores that have a few things. However, none of these have fruits and vegetables. We have approached the Dollar General about carrying fruits and vegetables and getting them to put these in their store, but they didn’t have room.”

According to Mayor Broome, they are working with a Vicksburg grocery store right now to come in and build in the town, but it takes a lot to build a new store. “We are looking at $2.2 million to build a new store with everything that goes in it. We have been working with different companies to come in, but right now we are without a grocery store,” he said.

Recently, Mayor Broome was filmed in a short documentary about the grocery store in Utica being closed, and the devastating impact on their community. The short film was commissioned by the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi. To view the video, click here