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Yesterday, we took note of a story in Montana’s Independent Record saying that “WinCo Foods is making progress on an 84,000-square-foot grocery store in Helena … In addition to Helena, WinCo is building a store in Billings. The two locations will be the first WinCo stores in Montana.”

The story noted that “WinCo does not require a membership, but keeps down costs by not bagging groceries for customers and only accepting cash, debit, checks, WIC and EBT cards.”

I commented:

I love the WinCo model, largely because of the employee-ownership that creates a wonderful customer service culture within a price/value model.

But there’s something else sort of interesting in this story. It points out that “the Helena store is expected to employ more than 140 full-time and part-time employees,” but also that “there are only 500 to 600 unemployed people in Lewis and Clark County, meaning a great deal of WinCo's workforce would have to leave an existing job.”

So two things are going to happen. One is that WinCo is going to drive down the unemployment level. The other is that it may raise the benchmarks for what makes an employer of choice.

This prompted an email from MNB reader Gail Nickel-Kailing:

We live in Helena MT and we REALLY don’t need another supermarket, especially one that encompasses 84,000 square feet. We already have these stores in Lewis and Clark County - population ~67,000:

• Albertsons
• Safeway
• Super 1
• WalMart Super Center
• Natural Grocers (Natural food store)
• Target (Grocery items, no produce/meat)

• Van’s Thriftway (family-owned “mainstream” supermarket)
• Real Food Market and Deli (family-owned natural food store)
• Bob’s Valley Market (family-owned small market, a step up from your “usual convenience store”)
• Heritage Food Store (family-owned “mainstream” grocery, East Helena)
• Allen’s Manix Store/The Trading Post (family-owned “mainstream” grocery, Augusta) - residents are actually closer to Great Falls (not in Lewis and Clark County) for shopping, where there are the usual array of chain stores.
• D & D Foodtown (family-owned “mainstream” grocery, Lincoln)

(I’ve only lived here 2 years so may have missed one or two.)

And to tell you frankly, most of the food available is pedestrian at best. You can walk into any one of the major stores and find exactly the same products - very, very few locally produced products, next to no local produce, and nearly no local meats (considering that livestock is the second largest agricultural “product” in the state, second only to wheat and cereal grain). The produce that does make it to western central Montana looks like it has arrived on a slow train that has made too many stops. And almost all meat is “boxed meat” from the major processors.

WinCo is just going to duplicate that and be one more drain on our local economy. Please note that according to a number of studies, shopping at locally owned stores provides a vastly increased “economic multiplier” compared to shopping at chain stores.

And, from another reader:

WinCo will have a huge impact on both of these markets.
First, I would expect many local food retailers will be losing employees to these Winco’s. There are 4 Albertsons in Billings alone.
However, the biggest impact will be a few food stores will close up within 2 years of the opening of the WinCo.

Responding to our stories about Sears’ travails, MNB reader Mark Boyer wrote:

If Sears were thrust into your lap what would you do?
I’m not trying to be snarky; I’m just not sure what the next best move would be, and wondered if there is anything to do now but make sure you’re not a creditor.

At this point, that may be all that is possible. I just don’t know why anyone would sell anything to Sears without the terms being COD.
KC's View: