CORRECTIONVILLE, Iowa | The town of Correctionville, Iowa, is named for a surveying "correction" that mappers used because the earth curves toward its top.

The east-west correction line runs along Fifth Street in Correctionville, through the heart of downtown.

A half-block west of the correction is another community correction of sorts, The Mercantile, a full-service grocery store that opened to a mix of fanfare and heartbreak on Jan. 30, 2013.

Two volunteers, Lee Shroeder and Jim Smith, who helped build the store died in a plane crash south of Correctionville on Dec. 1, 2012. Six weeks later the store effort's leading volunteer, pilot Gaylen Knaack, died from injuries he suffered in the crash.

The Mercantile, an idea Knaack lifted from the ground, opened 12 days before Knaack's death. Many of the store's initial customers on that first day of business signed a giant get-well card for Knaack, the town's greatest booster, who was fighting for his life at the time at St. Elizabeth Regional Medical Center in Lincoln, Neb.

Correctionville had been without a full-service grocery store since Sept. 30, 2009, when the old Valley Grocery received heavy damage in a fire. It never reopened. The store, just a block east of The Mercantile, still stands empty and shuttered.

Knaack and other leaders in town grew weary of promises made by Valley Grocery's owners to fix and reopen their store, or sell the facility. After a couple of idle years, Knaack rolled up his sleeves and embarked on this community project, his last, as it turned out.

Volunteers worked with the Correctionville Economic Development Corp., the city of Correctionville, Woodbury County and more in establishing a downtown site where the old 1892 Columbia Opera House stood before its collapse in September 2010. Forty volunteers assembled to pour a foundation, ultimately raising a structure covering 6,000 square feet.

Cash gifts alone amounted to $93,000, a remarkable feat for a city of 824 residents.

The Correctionville Economic Development Corp. then tapped Mark and Deb McCrea to manage the operation. The McCreas are paying back the CEDC through a 10-year lease agreement that ends with the couple owning the operation.

"The nice thing is that at the that time, the CEDC will take the money that was donated for this store and put it toward another community use," Dawn McCrea says.

"Things have actually gone well in our first year," says Mark McCrea, a former golf course superintendent now cutting meat instead of greens and fairways. "I cut meat pretty much five to six days per week. We keep our produce fresh, and people are still making a lot of comments to us, glad we're open and glad we're here."

McCrea's staff even delivers groceries inside and outside of town for customers who pay up to a $2 surcharge for rural delivery.

"They call in their grocery list and we get it to them," McCrea says, highlighting his commitment to small-town service.

"If I go to Pierson or Washta or Cushing with groceries, I charge $2," he says. "And nobody has bickered at all about it. They love being able to call in, and they've said we do a really good job of shopping for them."

One weekends, the McCreas say, some 300 to 400 customers make their way to The Mercantile.

"We'll have to make sure people keep using it," says Don Joy, owner and operator of Joy Auto Supply, just west of The Mercantile. "I like it, but you have to get people trained. It might cost just a little more, but it's worth having a store here."

"I like the variety," says Ellen Jolly, another customer. "Many of the things I use are right here."

The traffic inside the store causes Mark McCrea to reach for the phone on a recent morning. Seems customers have nearly bought out the supply of powdered baby formula. McCrea calls his supplier, Affiliated Foods Midwest of Norfolk, Neb., at 2 p.m. By 7 a.m. the next day, he's told, they'll have more on the truck and into his store.

"The response from Affiliated has been great," McCrea says.

It mirrors that of The Mercantile's loyal customer base.



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