MARQUETTE — Steve Piper's grandfather started a grocery store in Marquette in 1922, but the town may lose Piper's Fine Foods if it cannot find investors to keep it afloat.
"We have a very nice store for a town this size," Piper said. "Our business isn't bad for a town this size, either, but it isn't quite enough to keep it open."
Piper's family moved away from Marquette in the 1930s, then returned when he was three years old.
"My dad managed the (grocery) store that was here at that time," Piper said.
A new building for Piper's Fine Foods was built in 1982 and Piper took over ownership in 1998. The grocery store is known for the sausage that is made in house — especially the potato sausage that is popular around the holidays.
"There are a lot of towns that would love to have a store like this," Piper said. "...We're trying to make people aware of what they have here and why we need to keep it."
While grocery stores in similarly-sized cities have turned to donations, grants or the local government for assistance, Piper said he is looking for investors who will get a return on their money.
Under the Invest Kansas Exemption Program, Piper is offering a total of $350,000 in preferred stock. Investors will earn a five percent annual dividend. A limit of $5,000 is set on an individual's investment unless they qualify as an accredited investor — someone having a net worth of at least $1 million excluding their primary residence. Investors must be a resident of Kansas and will not be able to resell the stock outside of the state for nine months after the purchase.
"Your investment is not guaranteed and you will have no voting rights nor will you be able to cash in your stock," Piper noted in an informational flyer. "...The proceeds will be used to pay off debt and provide operating capital for the future operation of the store."
For the moment, Piper is only taking pledges for the purchasing of the stock until a minimum of $300,000 is met. Currently, $150,000 has been pledged.
Having a local grocery store serves a town beyond selling food and other necessities.
"Without it, the town is dead, to be quite honest," Piper said. "I'm not saying that just because we run the store, but a small town without a grocery store isn't much. ...The tax base would go down, housing values would go down and taxes would go up. It just wouldn't be good at all for the town."
Not only does Piper's Fine Foods serve Marquette's residents when they have an immediate need for meat, produce or other food, it also provides an option when inclement weather makes travel hazardous.
The store is a resource both for people traveling to vacation in the area and those who stay home.
"There is a lady who comes in in a wheelchair — that's her mode of transportation," Piper said.
Meeting the needs of his customers is not a burden for Piper.
"I don't have to force myself to go to work," Piper said. "I get up in the morning and I'm ready to go. Six days a week, I work all day and then on Sundays, before church, I come in and get the store ready."
Piper said he will let a few more months go by before making a decision whether or not to stay open.
"The end might be closer than we think, we don't know," Piper said. "We still have our fingers crossed that we're going to raise the money.
Piper's Fine Foods is located at 102 S. Washington St. in Marquette. For more information about the store and purchasing stock, call 785-820-7957 or email pipersfoods@ks-USA.net.
Contact Patricia Middleton by email at email@example.com or follow her stories on Twitter at @MiddleSentinel.