In 2018, the only grocery store in Baldwin, Fla., closed its doors, leaving residents with nothing but fast or canned food as dietary options. Such phenomenons are increasingly common in rural towns like Baldwin, as The Washington Post reports. Mainstream supermarkets don’t have room for small towns in their business plans, as they offer low profit margins.
Baldwin in particular is so isolated, the nearest store was 10 miles away, a stretch even before you consider that travel isn’t really a choice for the town’s 1,600 residents where the median household income is $44,271. Families that do own a vehicle often share one, and many senior citizens in the snowbird state no longer drive at all. Mayor Sean Lynch was forced to come up with a solution that went beyond the typical jurisdiction of a mayor: He set up a city-run grocery store.
The Baldwin Market opened its doors on Sept. 20. The eight workers who started out, plus an additional two hired for the holiday season as business racks up, are all on the municipal payroll. Workers from the town’s maintenance department help unload deliveries, and Mayor Lynch can be seen strolling the aisles and offering help. The Baldwin Market is a collectively owned, government-run enterprise, which, for lack of any other words, makes it socialist. In a town where 68% of residents voted for Donald Trump in 2016, that fact is fine print that they’d like to stay that way.
“ Should [local governments] be in private enterprise all the time?” Lynch, a nonpartisan, wondered aloud, per the Post. “Maybe not. But for situations like this, yeah, definitely I believe they should.”
It’s quite ironic that a town that leaned far, far right in the latest election is being fed by a socialist grocery system. Baldwin isn’t the only town that’s proven the necessity of such institutions, or that they work. There are similar city-run grocery stores in St. Paul, Kan., and Caney, Kan. Rural and usually red communities have a hard time hanging on to residents, let alone attracting new ones, so communal ownership businesses like these are an ironic anomaly in conservative territory.
“Fundamentally, what you have is people that have lived in these rural communities all their lives, and they want these rural communities to survive,” David Procter, the director of the Rural Grocery Initiative at Kansas State University, told the Post. “And they realize that without access to food, they’re not going to survive.”
Having felt the absence of it, Baldwin residents would probably agree that fresh food is a basic need. It’s just a bit ironic that they can’t extend that sentiment to other human rights, such as access to water, land, safety, healthcare, family security or marriage, and a million other things that the president they voted for would like to take away from certain people. A “socialist” grocery store may be hard to swallow for these red towns, but that doesn’t change the fact that they work.