Frequent readers of this column know that I visit family near Boulder, Colorado, at this time of year. Boulder, as you might know, has been named the happiest city in America. Every time I go there, I am struck by the vibrancy of the city. It is a happy place.

But I have never been envious until now. Boulder has something that Joplin used to have — a full-service supermarket. This is a supermarket with a bakery, a delicatessen, a seafood department, a floral department, dine-in and carryout food service, wine and spirits, a pharmacy and a coffee kiosk.

While in Boulder, I visited a Safeway supermarket. I picked up a handheld basket because I did not think I would be buying that much. Just a few things, the basics. When I walked into the produce department, I stopped to look around. This prompted a store employee to walk up and ask me: “Can I help you find something?”

“No,” I said. “I’m just marveling.”

This store was loaded with a staggering number of choices. The produce looked as if it had just been picked moments before. I have never seen so many types of cheese in one place. If you were looking for an obscure type of bread, you would find it here. There was a salad bar and a sushi bar. Instead of a couple of shelves devoted to olives, there was an entire rack. It was intoxicating. My basket was full.

There’s a noble effort afoot in this city right now to accentuate our quality of life. I am all for it. I hope a full-service supermarket is part of that effort. Don’t get me wrong. We have some great grocery stores in this town. I have always shopped at Food 4 Less, which now, with the closing of our last Price Cutter store, is the closest thing we have to a full-service supermarket. Food 4 Less, of late, has been going out of its way to offer more choices. I also shop at Aldi because it offers brands that you cannot find at Food 4 Less. The breads and produce also are good. I shopped at Price Cutter, too, because of its deli. I now find that I am doing more grocery shopping at Sam’s Club to fill in for that loss.

What struck me recently was the excitement that local residents expressed when they heard that Aldi had acquired land for a second store in southwest Joplin. Believe me, I am thrilled. Here again, don’t read this the wrong way, but what does this say about the grocery store situation in our town when we are thrilled to someday have a second Aldi store?

The local grocery store market is in a state of flux. Joplin is supporting a new Natural Grocers store at 510 S. Range Line Road, but an established grocery store, Save A Lot, 811 W. Seventh St., has closed. A sign on the door at Save A Lot says a full-service market will reopen there. I sure hope so. This will have a negative impact on the quality of life in that area if it does not reopen.

There is a possibility that the Hy-Vee supermarket chain could expand into this market in connection with a new TIF district — the Boomtown Central Shopping Center — that is proposed for an area southeast of Range Line Road and East 32nd Street. This district would include a new Menard’s home improvement store. Hy-Vee looked at Range Line as a place for a new store before the 2011 tornado, but that deal fell through. They might still be interested, but one question lingers: Are there enough rooftops in Joplin to support a full-service supermarket?

We’ll know more about that with the 2020 Census. Will Joplin’s population be closer to 60,000 than 50,000? I have been told by those in the know about these things that 60,000 is a population threshold that will help put Joplin on the map. Maybe we will have grown enough to land a full-service supermarket. You should know that the same people who want to accentuate our quality of life are preparing now to make sure the 2020 Census locally is as complete as possible. They get it.

So, there is still hope for a full-service supermarket. What we could be witnessing is a consumer shift away from big supermarkets to smaller convenient stores that specialize in offering the basics. That’s fine, but we need at least one full-service supermarket in the mix. This concludes today’s rant.

If you have news about something that’s happening on Range Line Road or Main Street, dial 417-623-3480, ext. 7250; or send an email to wkennedy@joplinglobe.com; or send a fax to Wally Kennedy at 417-623-8598.

Wally Kennedy is a reporter and columnist for The Joplin Globe.

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