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Shoppers look to local stores

A Wal-Mart store in in Oakland, Calif.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: Wal-Mart reported higher June sales today, but people who don't have a Wal-Mart close to home are finding it might not be worth the gas to get those low, low prices.

Who doesn't have a Wal-Mart nearby, you say? Big parts of rural America don't and after years of losing business to people willing to drive 30 miles to get to big box retail, local stores in some rural counties are seeing things pick up a bit.

Jim Lottes runs a local chain called Rozier's Country Mart -- they're in southern Missouri and Illinois -- and we reached him in at a store in Chester, Illinois.

What's a gallon of gas going for there, Mr. Lottes?

Jim Lottes: In Chester? Let me ask my secretary... $4.09.

Ryssdal: $4.09. That's not bad. I'm paying $4.57 on the way in, I mean, relatively speaking.

Lottes: That's Los Angeles, right?

Ryssdal: Yes, sir.

Lottes: OK.

Ryssdal: Part of the reason we called you is to find out if you're seeing a benefit from people staying home and shopping local because it costs too much to drive to, say, the Wal-Mart or the big malls?

Lottes: That's very true, especially like in Ste. Gen and Chester -- there is no Wal-Mart, so now instead of driving 20 miles north, they're just staying in town.

Ryssdal: Would you say its gas prices or just the fact that people don't have as much money these days because of the economy that's boosting your business?

Lottes: Probably a little of both, but gas is a big part of it. That's the one you hear about the most by far talking to customers and talking to people out on the street.

Ryssdal: Were you able to compete with Wal-Mart before?

Lottes: Yeah, we've been competing with them since... they probably came to our town in Perryville back in 1970. So a lot of the businesses have shut down, but we've just been able to hold on. It's a family business that started back in 1903. Cross our fingers, we always will be able to.

Ryssdal: Now here's the business strategy question for you , Mr. Lottes. Are you ready?

Lottes: Sure.

Ryssdal: How are you going to hang on to all these customers if gas prices ever settle down a little bit?

Lottes: Well, actually, right now we're having a meeting in Chester talking about expansion, to expand our produce and maybe work on our meat department and make sure you have what everybody wants for a small town. You see what I'm saying? If you don't, they're gonna go some place else or other competition's going to come in, so you just have to be on top of it.

Ryssdal: So if you're thinking about expansion, business must be pretty good?

Lottes: Business is pretty good. We have grocery stores in Perryville, Missouri, and Ste. Gen and Chester and we've got a little department store in Perryville. Last week was Fourth of July and our hardware store was up, compared to last year, up about 20 percent. So what it means is people were staying home which benefits businesses in a small town.

Ryssdal: We reached Jim Lottes in Chester, Illinois. He manages a Rozier's grocery store there and in another couple of places up and down the Mississippi River. Mr. Lottes, thanks a lot for your time.

Lottes: OK, thank you.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
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