A community development block grant submitted by the town of Van Buren could help the sale of Saucier's Shurfine on Jun. 23 Credit: Contributed

VAN BUREN, Maine — A St. John Valley town wants to keep its only grocery store and is seeking government funds to help.

Saucier’s Shurfine has a potential buyer, but town officials are applying for a $240,000 grant to help the person purchase the store.

At a time when economic uncertainty and rising food, fuel and utility costs have strapped both businesses and residents, the store is vital to Van Buren and its surrounding communities, Town Manager Nancy Troeger said. Without it, area residents have no other options for fresh food. A Community Development Block Grant may be the answer.

Just five months ago, the nearby Grand Isle General Store closed due to supply line issues, labor shortages and electricity bill hikes. 

During a Town Council meeting on June 14, Van Buren officials and residents discussed applying for a $240,000 Community Development Block Grant to aid in the store’s purchase and keep it operating. 

The store has supplied the town and surrounding communities throughout the pandemic, and is the only grocery store within miles where residents from Grand Isle to Hamlin and Saint-Leonard, New Brunswick, can purchase nutritious fresh produce, meat, eggs and dairy. Other businesses like Dollar General and Family Dollar only have non-perishable, frozen and pre-packaged foods, Troeger said. 

“Saucier’s is one of the most important businesses in the community. We will not let it fail,” Town councilor Peter Madore said at Tuesday’s meeting. 

The block grant program supports community development activities in an effort to build stronger and more resilient communities through addressing infrastructure needs, economic development projects, public facilities installation, community centers and other projects, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

The grants also assist for-profit businesses that may be lacking funds, Troeger said. Though a block grant has limitations, in this case the funds can be used to cover critical operating capital such as utilities, equipment and employee salaries. 

“The funds can be requested for each job created or retained,” Troeger said. “For each job created or retained, one can ask for $30,000 to assist the business, and then the business must also match with actual cash or in-kind $30,000.” 

With eight jobs retained, the total requested amount for Saucier’s Shurfine comes out to $240,000, Troeger said. During June 14’s council meeting, Troeger told community members they can assist with the application process by submitting signatures to stress Van Buren’s need for the grocery store.  

While the grant application is set to be submitted July 5, it is unclear if signatures are being collected. 

The business’ current owners declined to comment.