Here are four leadership lessons from St. John’s effort to avoid becoming a food desert by replacing its grocery store.

1. Being able to mourn a loss is important. But eventually you have to move on if you want something to change.

For residents, the loss of Dillons was painful. Residents needed some time to vent their opinions at emotional town hall meetings. But Carolyn Dunn and others in the community ultimately had to spur people to focus on how to respond.

2. Use data to test your gut instincts.

The community initially sought to attract another tenant to the former downtown Dillons building, but that prospect proved untenable. A study confirmed that a new store located on the highway would fare better. Letting go of an 88-year-old downtown location had to be difficult, but having tangible information made it possible to rally residents around a new vision.

3. Persistence pays off, but only if you meet others where they are.

The community’s persistence in seeking out funding and winning over Pat White of White’s Foodliners paid off. But it took a series of interactions for those things to take shape. By using White’s concerns as a way to make her community’s approach more viable, Dunn and more than 100 residents from the community paved the way for the company to agree to operate the new store.

4. Physical changes aren’t enough. Attitudes must change, too.

Building a new store will matter little if community members don’t also change their buying habits. One of the reasons Dillons pulled up stakes is that many St. John residents were buying their groceries in Great Bend and Hutchinson. The survival of the new store will depend heavily on the willingness of residents of support it.

Journal Fall edition cover

A version of this article appears in the Fall 2019 issue of The Journal, a publication of the Kansas Leadership Center. To learn more about KLC, visit Order your copy of the magazine at the KLC Store. For a subscription to the printed edition of The Journal, visit

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