“When you have a small rural town and the grocery store dies, the town dries up and it just blows away,” said McCloud, who revived B Street Market in 2017 and became its owner. “There are six towns east of here — they just lost the grocery store, then they lost the gas station, and then they lost the bank and now they’re nothing.”

Some states are trying to tackle their rural grocery gaps. Supporters of such efforts point to tax incentives and subsidies at various levels of government that have enabled superstores to service larger areas and squeeze out local independent grocers. Now, dollar stores are opening in rural regions and offering items at lower prices, posing direct competition to local groceries.

Critics see that development as a threat to public health, since dollar stores typically lack quality meat and fresh produce…

In North Dakota, a legislative panel is studying rural food distribution and transportation amid a steep decline in the number of groceries serving rural areas. The committee is considering whether there are public policies that could work, said state Rep. Thomas Beadle, a Republican committee member. But Beadle hopes consumers will organize and solve problems on their own.