VELVA, N.D. (KXNET) — When you go into Velva Fresh Foods you’re greeted with a smile — and when you leave, you never leave a stranger.

Grocery stores are not just your regular retail shops — they are essential to the foundation of our communities. For rural North Dakota, some local grocery stores are the only way for local families to get food, especially in winter.

Velva Fresh Foods has been serving the Velva community for many years — and in 2020, owner Brenda McCasson and her husband took over.

“Grocery stores are very vital to communities, to smaller communities especially, to keep them thriving,” McCasson explained. “It’s kind of a, it goes hand-in-hand with the school. They have a reciprocal relationship, usually back and forth.”

Velva is a small community, with a little more than 1,000 people according to the 2020 U.S. Census — and community members rely on shopping at the local grocery store, instead of having to drive 30 miles to Minot for groceries.

“You save a lot of money in gas,” stated customer Kaitlyn Larsen, “and it’s super convenient, and you get to help out people in your community.”

“Every community no matter how large or small needs a local grocery store to get everything they need to eat, and accommodate their family’s needs,” said customer Brendan Pearson, “and you have everything from groceries to cotton balls.”

Winter in North Dakota brings inclement weather. so being able to buy your groceries without driving long distances is crucial.

“When you have situations like we’ve had a lot this year with many storms,” Pearson said, “you need to have a local grocery store where people can get to the grocery store within a few minutes, a few miles.”

In addition to providing necessities like food and toiletries, McCasson says local grocery stores also have charm. She says what they lack in quantity, they make up for with quality — but also, that running a small grocery store does come with the challenge of having a smaller staff.

McCasson says when a worker calls off, other staff members step up.

“We try to provide those other things that the bigger grocery stores don’t provide,” McCasson stated, “like holding the door open for someone. And every customer I know by name. And I like to have a relationship with those guys, they’re like family to us. So those are the kind of things that I look forward to every day when I come into work.”

McCasson and her husband also own Drake Fresh Foods, a local grocery store for the Drake community.