After 17 years, Neudorf’s only grocery store will close its doors for good on February 28.

Neufoods Co-op store manager Louise Rathgeber says it is closing because people chose to shop at big box stores, like Walmart or Costco, in Yorkton and Regina.

“People in the community just aren’t really supporting this (store) and haven’t for quite a few years, so it’s been a struggle for a long time,” she said.

In the town of less than 300 the Co-op serves as a community hub. It also has a small restaurant and shortly after noon on Friday it has about 10 people, all sitting in groups, chatting and eating.

Richard Schweitzer is one of them. He was, for many years, a member of the Neufoods Co-op board and is still a regular at the store. He’s sad to see the Co-op go.

“It means a lot to the people who always lived here. We come uptown, go for coffee, buy some groceries, maybe have ice cream come summertime,” he said.

“I’m always disappointed because I’ve seen all these towns go down the wayside,” said Glen Bender, who is 78-years-old and lives just outside of Neudorf.

The Neufoods Co-op is part of a larger trend in the prairies where businesses, even courts and hospitals, are exiting small towns.

“Once rural communities lose some of these core businesses, like grocery stores, or other things, like hospitals, it can be really hard for these communities to survive and thrive,” says Wayne Kelly, from Brandon, Man.’s Rural Development Institute.

He says that the provincial and federal governments must work with rural communities to recognize the challenges that they face. He says that a declining population in rural areas, increased global competition and difficulty accesses services in rural areas is all contributing factors for businesses leaving rural areas, but notes that every situation is unique.

Once the Co-op closes Schweitzer says that he’ll start going to the local hockey rink to meet his friends and neighbours, and says that he’ll likely get his groceries from Melville, about 40 kilometres away.