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Students running small-town market know business

March 7, 2016 at 8:07 PM EDT
As a sparsely populated Nebraska town in an equally sparsely populated county, Cody is not where one might expect to find a thriving retail business. But the Circle C Market has been making a (small) profit there for the last three years. Its secret? It’s run by students from a nearby school, who work at the store as part of their curriculum. Mike Tobias of Harvest Public Media reports.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Cody, Nebraska, has a population of 156 people, normally not enough to sustain a grocery store. But thanks to a unique educational opportunity, residents of the town don’t have to drive 30 minutes to the next town to buy food.

Mike Tobias from our PBS partners at NET News and Harvest Public Media has the story.

MIKE TOBIAS: Sitting atop a sparsely populated county the size of Connecticut, Cody is not a prime location for any retail business. So how’s the Circle C Market been able to survive and thrive here for almost three years? Because it’s mostly run by the students of Cody-Kilgore School.

TODD CHESSMORE, Superintendent, Cody-Kilgore Unified Schools: We have adults that are involved, but, essentially, we try and get the kids to do pretty much everything, yes.

MAN: Tell me what you’re doing.

STUDENT: I’m just ordering for next week.

STUDENT: I’m entering all the daily work in QuickBooks.

STUDENT: I’m doing the produce order. I’m the produce coordinator.

MIKE TOBIAS: Here’s how it works. A community board oversees the nonprofit operation. During the school day, students take on tasks here, as part of different classes, with a paid adult employee on hand to help train and supervise.

The rest of the time, students are paid to work at Circle C. Almost all of Cody-Kilgore’s 165 K-12 students are involved, from elementary school students creating decorations, to high schoolers deciding to stock a new cereal.

STUDENT: A Cocoa Krisp rice bag, so we could do that one.

MIKE TOBIAS: The store does enough business to run in the black, but not by much, Chessmore says, and primarily because of how it’s run.

TODD CHESSMORE: Without the school being this as intimately involved as it is, I don’t think it could be done. It cannot generate enough funds and still be competitive to stay open.

MIKE TOBIAS: What doesn’t show up on the Circle C ledger is how the village and its people benefit from not having a one-hour round-trip to get to the next closest grocery store, but also how students benefit from having a place to market products they have created, a place to earn a little money, and maybe most importantly, a place to gain real-world experience.

LIZZY HOOPER, 8th Grade Student: If I ever want to run a business, I know what to put on the shelves, how to put it on the shelves, how to finance, how to get grants, marketing and advertising.

MIKE TOBIAS: An effort that benefits students and others who live in a town that calls itself too tough to die.

For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Mike Tobias in Cody, Nebraska.