New grocery store in Evansville offers 24-hour access as a solution to small-town need
Yearly membership needed for 24-hour access, but no membership needed to shop during normal business hours. Store is only second of its kind in Minnesota.
For nearly the past four years, Evansville residents have been without a grocery store.
But that changed last week when Main Street Market opened its doors – doors that can be opened 24 hours a day, seven days a week with a swipe of a key fob or a scan of the grocery store’s cellphone app. For the 24/7 access, though, customers need to sign up and pay for a yearly membership.
But no worries for the not-so-tech-savvy residents, the grocery store, owned and operated by Alex and Caileen Ostenson, will be open for “normal” grocery shopping three days a week. No membership, app or key fob required.
The Ostensons said the store will be open for now on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
As for the 24-hour access, Main Street Market, as far as the Ostensons know, is only the second store in Minnesota to offer that capability. The other store is in New Prague, but it has a bit of a different set up as it is more of an organic, co-op type store, said Alex.
“We are a full grocery store,” he said. “We will have items that most everyone uses, the staples.”
The couple also said that as time goes on, they hope to add more items to the store and will base the items on the needs of the community. They will also take suggestions from their customers.
“We want to be able to dial in to what's good for those in the community,” said Alex.
When Alex and Caileen decided to open the grocery store, Alex said they wanted to find a way to make it available to everyone as they knew that they would not have it staffed full-time and only be open for limited hours.
Alex, who is a self-claimed problem solver, started researching and found the other store in New Prague and saw that it was open 24-7.
“If it works on that type of store, why couldn’t it work here?,” he said. “I knew I could find a way to make it work.”
Alex found a company that offered the technology that would work with what they wanted for their store. For customers who want the 24-hour access, he said they have to sign up for the $75 per year membership and then they can download an app on their phone. They can either gain access to the store via the Bluetooth connection or by using a key fob.
Once inside the store, customers have two options for checking out. They can either scan items with their phone via the app and pay for the items right on their phones or, Alex said they can use the self checkout at the front of the store.
How will they stop people from stealing? Alex said they have security measures in place, but that it really comes down to the honor system.
“If people buy a year membership for $75, would they really risk losing it by stealing?” he said. “We know who is coming and going as each person has a unique access code.”
Plus, Alex said if there are “shenanigans” happening, he has the ability to disable a person’s account at any point directly from his own phone.
In opening a store with such a unique concept, Alex said there were several hoops they had to jump through, but that those in the state who do the licensing and permitting were great to work with.
“Our hope is that this is a pilot store that we can grow into other communities,” said Alex, with Caileen adding that they want to bring back grocery stores to smaller, rural communities.
“We want to make this work,” she said.
Anchor in the community
Alex and Caileen, who both grew up in the area, graduating from Barrett High School in 2007, decided to move back to the Evansville area after living in the Twin Cities for awhile. The couple have two young children – Bella, 5, and Reuben, 11 months – and wanted to raise them in a smaller community.
Alex said he remembers Nelson’s Store, the grocery store in Evansville that had been in business for 71 years. The store closed on Aug. 31, 2017. He and his wife also know that it was hard on the residents to lose their only grocery store. They said there are grocery stores in neighboring towns, but there was no longer one right in Evansville.
“We knew the city needed another grocery store,” said Alex, with Caileen adding that grocery stores help to anchor a community.
They also said they understood why Nelson’s Store closed.
Ginny Nelson and her husband, Scott, had carried on the legacy of the store after Scott’s parents passed it to them in 1987. Ginny and Scott ran it together for 29 years until Scott lost his battle with cancer. When he was diagnosed, the couple put the store up for sale, but never received any concrete offers to purchase it. After Scott passed away, Ginny made the decision to close it so that she could spend more time with family.
Evansville's only grocery closes
The Ostensons, who by the way met in middle school and have basically been together since, are happy to be back in the area. They said opening day, which was May 25, exceeded their expectations, which makes them hopeful for the future of Main Street Market.