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By Andy Steiner
Photography by John Linn

For about a century, residents could pick up milk, bread and sundry supplies at Pete's Grocery at 410 Elm Street in Waverly. Some customers arrived by foot or bicycle. But as young families began filling new homes in the town's nearby residential developments, Pete's began to falter.

"The owner had been in the business for 25 years," said Waverly Mayor Connie Holmes. "He really wanted to retire. He was tired out. Things were falling apart, and there was no one to pick it up. It's a very difficult business and it's not for everybody." 

The death of Pete's Grocery was a painful, drawn-out process. Shelves weren't restocked and equipment didn't get the needed repairs. For months, the owner - and, eventually, the City - tried to find someone to take over the business, but prospects were discouraged by the deteriorated condition of the building (renovations to bring it up to code would cost as much as $200,000), and the City had little in its coffers to make the upgrades needed to attract a new investor. When Pete's finally closed for good in February 2012, it seemed unlikely that the store would ever open again. 

In the months since Waverly lost its grocery store, the town's 1,300 residents have adjusted, Holmes said. Many of the town's young families had already been doing their shopping on their way home from jobs in the Twin Cities, and the older residents who favored Pete's started shopping in nearby Howard Lake, Delano or Buffalo. 

Life goes on in Waverly without Pete's, but Holmes and many other residents still feel the sting. "In a community like Waverly, losing a mom-and-pop grocery store often means losing more than a sense of nostalgia," said Don Hickman, Initiative Foundation vice president for economic and community development. "When people start traveling out of town to buy food, they usually do the rest of their shopping out of town, too."

Holmes said that she worries about Waverly becoming little more than a "bedroom community." "Small towns need to have a grocery store to stay healthy," said Holmes. "It's a strong center, a place where people stop by, hang up notices about garage sales, see their neighbors. It's a gathering place, the heart of a town." 

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