It is not unusual to see people working together to make good things happen. Grabill has taken that work ethic to a whole new level.
In 2006, Save-A-Lot, a discount supermarket franchise, opened in the community after 86 local families got together and formed a co-op. The group pooled its money and resources to lease and stock an existing building and bring a grocery store to the small community.
But as nice as it was to shop for groceries at the Save-A-Lot, 13325 State St., something was still missing in the town.
“It didn’t have everything that our town needed to keep our people within our town,” said Elmer Lengacher, one of the owners.
Undaunted, several families got together and researched how to meet community needs and provide a way to carry more items that the townspeople wanted.
Eventually, the result was Grabill Country Sales, 13813 Fairview Drive, which is jointly owned through a co-op of 100 families and carries items not found at the Save-A-Lot, said Lengacher, who also manages the store.
For example, Save-A-Lot sells Pepsi and Grabill Country Sales sells Coke and 7Up, he said.
Additionally, different brands of milk are sold at the two stores.
Grabill Country Sales has 15,000 square feet and was built by local craftsmen, which kept labor costs low, Lengacher said.
“The shareholders came in, devoted their time and built this building. We built and stocked this building for $1 million,” he said.
“We have a lot of the hard-to-find items. We are noted for candy. We can bring candy back that Grandma and Grandpa had when they were little kids. You don’t find that in the big box stores,” he said.
The store also carries bulk foods. For example, 50- and 100-pound boxes of things such as baking powder are repackaged into smaller packages and sold to customers.
“We also have a lot of (commercial) baking places that come out and buy the whole 50- or 100-pound box,” Lengacher said.
Additionally, the store grinds and makes its own organic peanut butter. Further, many gluten-free and sugar-free foods, as well as hydroponically grown lettuce, are available.
Finally, besides groceries, a buffet lunch and dinner is available in the store, and a catering service is also offered.
“So therefore, the people have got everything they need in their town within the two stores,” Lengacher said.
Grabill Country Sales also supplies more than 44 gas stations in the Fort Wayne area with candy and baked goods. Grabill Amish Pastries is the delivery company, he said.
The respective locations of Save-A-Lot and Grabill Country Sales are not a coincidence.
The rear doors of the two stores are situated back-to-back and only about 25 feet apart so employees can go back and forth between the two stores when necessary.
The two stores bring the community closer together.
“These are all local families, business people, individuals, grandpas, and it really forms a strong knit in the community with these people all owning a share in this business,” Lengacher said.
The locally owned stores have also helped preserve the Amish heritage.
“We want to keep our heritage, as well. Our heritage is strong for the Amish community and Grabill. We are trying to keep the Amish heritage in town. That’s who we are, and that’s our goal,” Lengacher said.
Finally, two local grocery stores offering a wide variety of goods also solves another problem.
“Our problem is the Amish have to hire a driver if we want to go (farther away by vehicle) to Wal-Mart or Meijer, and that can cost up to $30. Staying here we can keep the $30 and just take the horse and buggy and drive into town,” Lengacher said.
“This Save-A-Lot is very different and unique from all the rest. It is in the smallest town ever,” he said.
Grabill had a population estimated at 1,111 in 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The larger town of Leo-Cedarville is just down the road and helps support the store, as does nearby Harlan, he said.
Plans for the 7.5 acres surrounding the stores, while still vague, call for more businesses to eventually open in the project called Grabill Country Village.
“More businesses that are connected to Grabill Country Sales and Save-A-Lot. Maybe in the area (of) food manufacturing or something to do with food,” Lengacher said.