Hiawathat Thriftway now closed

Kansas’ grocery tax hurts border stores, rural communities



Tim White tried to keep the Hiawatha Thriftway open in ways that might bring customers through the door. He welcomed community growers to have a farmers market in the parking lot. He stocked his store’s fresh section with locally-grown produce.

But, still, last year, White had to close its doors. Business was not enough to keep the store running.

“In my particular situation, the Hiawatha population is decreasing,” White says. “It also has a Walmart in the same town and it has pushed local owned businesses out.”

Another factor for customers could be the 6.5 percent food sales tax, added to the county and local sales tax that could end up being nearly 10 percent or more in sales tax for shopping outings.

“One of the biggest barriers to access to healthy food in Kansas is cost,” says Ashley Jones-Wisner, State Policy Director for KC Healthy Kids. “When state and local taxes are added to their bill, some Kansans are paying 11 percent sales tax on their groceries. Food is not a luxury item and should not be taxed as such. Lowering the sales tax on food would put money back in the pockets of Kansas consumers.”

About 75 miles north of Topeka, Hiawatha is just 17 miles from the Nebraska border. Customers could go across the state line and save the tax on groceries.

“That did have some impact on us,” White says.

But many people in rural, central Kansas do not have the same options as Hiawatha Thriftyway customers who could go across the state line. Studies show that many rural communities find themselves in a food desert with limited options for groceries. That makes the food sales tax even more of a hinderance to someone on a limited budget – they don’t have options to shop for cheaper food.

Eliminating the food tax is an especially good idea for those in central Kansas, who might not have the luxury of crossing borders, White says. In his case, residents in Hiawatha who are “close to the border has an impact” on where they shop.

White might have sold his store but he has stayed in the independent grocery business. He now manages Jim’s Horton Thrift way in Horton, Kan., the last locally owned grocery store in Brown County.

By Traci Angel

What Does Your Legislator Think?

KC Healthy Kids surveyed every candidate running for the 165 seats in the Kansas Legislature to find out what they think about the Kansas grocery tax and other healthy eating and active living policy issues.  See Their Responses (11×17 PDF)

Photo: KHI News Service

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