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What happens when a rural town loses its only grocery store? When the former South Side Market in Rockwell City closed permanently in late 2019, this devastating blow led to an innovative solution when Fareway Stores, Inc. built a small-format store on the east side of town.

“We’ve received tremendous support from Rockwell City and surrounding communities since we opened Fareway Rockwell City on February 9, 2022,” said store manager Dave Kistenmacher. “While we’ve been open more than a year and half, people still thank us for coming to Rockwell City.”

Farewell Rockwell City's Store Manager, Dave Kistenmacher, stands in front of the store's produce.
Fareway Store Manager Dave Kistenmacher.

The 10,800-square-foot store is about half the size of a standard Fareway grocery store, but shoppers in Rockwell City have access to high-quality fresh produce, bakery items, a full-service meat counter and butcher shop, and competitive prices. The store also provides a mix of traditional options and modern technology, from to-your-car carryout service to a self-checkout station.

“Succeeding in the grocery business isn’t just about products and pricing,” said Kistenmacher, who started working part-time at age 15 at a Fareway store on Des Moines’ south side. “We focus on running a clean, well-stocked store with friendly, helpful employees.”

Fareway has opened small-format stores in recent years not only in Rockwell City, but also in Ogden and Colfax. Additional small-format stores are slated to open soon in Story City and Hull. While the grocery business is extremely competitive, with single-digit profit margins, Fareway is able to compete with its small-format stores for two big reasons.

“First, our overhead costs are significantly lower,” said Kistenmacher, who served as an assistant manager at four Fareway stores, including Dyersville, before coming to Rockwell City. The Rockwell City store, for example, is a steel building, instead of a brick-and-mortar structure. “We also have the power of a corporation behind us,” added Kistenmacher, who noted that bakery items are shipped to the Rockwell City store three times a week from the bakery at the Fort Dodge Fareway store.

Iowa-based Fareway, which started in Boone in 1938, is a privately-owned company that operates nearly 140 grocery stores in Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota and Minnesota. It’s often a major employer in the communities it serves, especially in smaller towns.

With approximately 40 full-time and part-time employees, the Rockwell City Fareway store is one of the larger employers in Calhoun County. The team includes high school students and students who attend college classes in Iowa Central in Fort Dodge. “We try to offer flexible scheduling options for our employees,” Kistenmacher said.

Since the Rockwell City store opened in 2022, it has added more than 250 items, including iced coffee, to give customers more choices. “We try to stock what customers want,” said Kistenmacher, who added that special orders are available through the Fareway warehouse.

Fareway also gives back to the community. The Rockwell City store supported the farm-to-table dinner that the Rockwell City Chamber of Commerce hosted in early October 2023. Fareway also donates items to the local food pantry and works with Rockwell City Revitalization to help sponsor live music at the Calhoun County courthouse square each summer.

“Fareway is a friend to rural Iowa,” said Iowa Senator Tim Kraayenbrink, who represents Calhoun County. “Opening smaller-sized grocery stores in rural communities provides a lifeline for the community, bringing independence and convenience back to our small towns. We’re thankful Fareway is filling a tremendous need.”

Kistenmacher and his team look forward to growing the business in Rockwell City. “We appreciate our customers so much. The support we’ve received here from the get-go is phenomenal.”

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