EVANSVILLE, Minn. — For nearly four years, Evansville, Minn., residents have been without a grocery store.
But that changed this month 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.
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.
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, Alex Ostenson said.
“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,” Ostenson said.
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.”
Ostenson found a company that offered the technology that would work with what they wanted for their store. Customers who want the 24-hour access have to sign up for the $75 per year membership, and then they can download an app on their phone, he said. 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, Ostenson said, they can use the self-checkout at the front of the store.
How will they stop people from stealing? Ostenson 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, Ostenson 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, Ostenson 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, decided to move back 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 in 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.
And grocery stores help to anchor a community, Caileen said.