‘The best way to support us is to shop here’

Rural, independent grocer Bobby’s Grocery & BBQ seeks community’s help in keeping doors open

Bobby's Grocery & BBQ located in Dysart pictured on Wednesday, June 12. The independent grocery store has been owned and operated by Bobby and Sara Torres since the summer of 2020. This past Monday, the business posted a public plea on Facebook seeking the community’s help in saving their business which has been struggling financially the last two years; much of the struggle began, Bobby and Sara said, following the opening of a dollar store in town in 2021. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

DYSART – Bobby and Sara Torres need their community’s help.

Since July of 2020, the once-married couple have owned and operated Dysart’s only independent grocery store – Bobby’s Grocery & BBQ – and while the first two years in operation were good, the last two have been anything but, Bobby told the newspaper this past Wednesday while manning the register of his family’s store. And if recent trends continue, the store will have to close, adding to an ever-increasing number of shuttered rural grocery stores across the country that the United States Dept. of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service attributes greatly to one thing — dollar stores entering the market.

“We can’t compete with Dollar General,” Bobby said bluntly when asked how long the store has been facing financial difficulty. “They were supposed to help us. Having a Dollar General here was supposed to help keep people in town. But now, we’re down $40,000 a month in revenue since they’ve been open. It’s gradually getting worse.”

Dysart’s Dollar General held its grand opening in early December 2021. In a press release provided by Dollar General’s corporate headquarters to the newspaper, the company trumpeted its arrival.

“DG stores are proud to provide area residents with an affordable and convenient store location to purchase household essentials including food, cleaning supplies, paper products, over-the-counter medicines, hygiene products, baby items and more through its mission of Serving Others,” the news release stated. “At Dollar General, we believe the addition of each new store provides positive economic growth for the communities we proudly serve, and the addition of our new Dysart store highlights our commitment to deliver a pleasant shopping experience that includes great prices on quality products in a convenient location. … We look forward to welcoming customers to our new store and hope they will enjoy shopping at our new location.”

Bobby Torres rings up a customer at his Dysart store, Bobby’s Grocery & BBQ, on Wednesday, June 12. Many times during the last two years, Torres has not been able to pay himself due to his store's severe financial difficulties. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

The new store was built – conveniently – along Highway 21 on the east side of town just north of the Casey’s gas station, while Bobby’s Grocery is located in the heart of the community, about a block from both City Hall and the downtown Main Street sector.

Prior to the Torres family’s purchase of the grocery, the business – then called Terry’s Food Center – had been owned and operated by the Trunck family for close to half a century. While Bobby is from Corpus Christi, Texas, Sara (née Behrens) was born and raised in Dysart and actually worked at Terry’s while in high school. She and Bobby along with their three young children moved from Austin, Texas to Dysart – where her parents still live – in order to purchase and run the town’s only grocery store.

On Wednesday as Bobby spoke to the newspaper from behind the register, Sara leaned on the register’s counter directly across from him. Early on in the interview they both began to tear up.

“On my way home sometimes, I’ll see one car here and I’ll drive by [Dollar General] and there’s like 10 cars there,” Bobby said while wiping his eyes.

Along with Dollar General coming to town, the store’s financial difficulties have also been greatly affected by inflation, Sara said.

Empty shelves populate Bobby's Grocery & BBQ on Wednesday, June 12. The store’s owners, Bobby and Sara Torres, no longer stock many of the items they once did due to poor sales that began following the opening of the local Dollar General back in 2021. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

“Inflation is huge, huge. Like the ice cream, $8.99 – the Blue Bunny – it used to be, back when we first bought it, like five-something.”

Sara said the only time they increase prices is when their suppliers do.

“That’s the only time we raise prices. We keep all our margins the same. And actually, there’s probably a lot of things in this store that are not up to where they should be – it’s hard to keep up with.”

Looking around the store’s shelves today is a bit of a sad experience – many of the shelves up and down the aisles are empty. But it’s not because of supply chain shortages or a newfangled way of stocking, Bobby said.

“When people see the emptiness in here, it’s because we can only buy what we are able with the revenue that’s coming in. So the less people shop, the less we can have on the shelves.”

Bobby’s Grocery & BBQ co-owner Sara Torres walks down an aisle in her store featuring mostly empty shelves this past Wednesday. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

Specifically, the Torreses no longer stock most health supplies including over-the-counter medicines, diapers, and pet food because of Dollar General.

“Nobody buys it, ’cause they’re buying it at Dollar General,” Sara explained. “We can’t compete with Dollar General.”

A perfect storm

In addition to the dollar store effect plus inflation driving prices through the roof, Bobby’s Grocery & BBQ has had its perishable stock wiped out three times in the last four years due to storms.

In the last month alone, the store experienced two extended power outages that affected the entire community. The first was due to a utility pole in town being knocked over by a tractor, while the second took place following storms on May 21 that flooded the county’s rural roads and knocked over eight utility poles east of Traer.


Before that, there was the August 2020 derecho and the July 2021 EF-1 tornado.

“We were out for 26 hours and I lost all my perishables,” Bobby said of the May 21 outage.

To make matters worse, the store’s compressors – some more than 50 years old – which power the coolers all need replacing.

“Those compressors are like anywhere from $10-$12,000 and I have eight of them,” Bobby said.

Currently, the store is carrying a great deal of debt including more than $9,000 in overdraft charges, while also being behind on taxes. Cash flow is basically non-existent at the moment.


“We don’t have anything,” Bobby explained. “Our bank’s about to tell us they’re not cashing anymore checks. So then we won’t be able to operate [save for] what’s left in the store. And then we’re done.”

What’s at stake

“When we close, they’re going to up their prices,” Bobby said, referring to Dollar General.

Higher prices is something the typical Bobby’s Grocery & BBQ customer may not be able to absorb due to being older, retired, and on a fixed income. For some of those customers, Sara said, Bobby’s is their lifeline.

“We deliver groceries to several elderly people in town. Some are homebound that we deliver to on a regular basis.”

Sara also said the store is the primary supplier to the churches in town for funeral lunches. They also sell a great deal to Dysart Golf Club, to the Union Community School District including the Family & Consumer Sciences classes, to the Dysart Lions Club, and to the many local organizations that host community fundraisers.

But even with those reliable groups and organizations continuing to shop at Bobby’s Grocery, it just hasn’t been enough to keep the business out of debt, which led to Bobby and Sara making a big announcement.

On Monday, June 10, the co-owners posted a public plea for help by way of a letter on the store’s Facebook page along with a link to an online fundraiser.

“Dear Valued Customers and Community Members,” the letter began, “As you know, Bobby’s (formerly Terry’s) has been a cornerstone of our community for over 40 years, providing fresh produce, essential groceries, and a welcoming space for all. Our mission has always been to support our community by offering quality products and exceptional service.”

“However, we are currently facing significant financial challenges that threaten our ability to continue operating. Due to economic downturn, increased operating costs, multiple electrical issues, natural disasters, and many repairs we are in urgent need of financial support to keep our doors open.”

“The decision to write this was not made lightly, and it comes as a last resort after exploring all possible options to remain open.”

The letter then goes into detail about the fundraiser which has a goal of $75,000. As of Friday morning, a little more than $1,500 had been donated.

“It’s to get us out of debt and to have a cushion,” Sara explained on Wednesday. “So paying off debt, paying taxes, giving us a cushion, and filling the store up.”

When asked how the last two years have affected them personally, Sara doesn’t hesitate.

“It’s just constant stress,” she replied, tears beginning to form. “[But] we can get other jobs. I just don’t want to let this town down. I was born and raised here. I worked here in high school. My parents still live here. We came and bought this store so it wouldn’t close.”

A town without a grocer

When a rural town loses their independent grocery store, the loss can reverberate much like when a town loses its local school building or its local clinic – a truth that has not been lost on Sara.

“When you think about what town you’re going to move to – [having] a grocery store, I think that’s huge for getting people to move to town. When you look at a town where you’re going to live, you look and see what’s in that town,” Sara said toward the end of the interview on Wednesday as she sat in her store’s crow nest office — Bobby checking out an older customer below — before adding, “And if your only option is Dollar General, I mean…”

According to USDA research published in early May of this year, “dollar stores generally have a more limited selection of food products, focusing more on prepacked and processed foods.”

The article – ‘Dollar Store Entry Affects Rural Grocery Stores More Than Urban’ – further states, “If independent grocers are less likely to return to rural communities after dollar store entry, this could lead to a more limited selection of food products available in these areas and affect consumer access to healthy foods.”

On Thursday, Dysart Mayor Tim Glenn provided comments to the newspaper in regard to the difficulty Bobby’s Grocery & BBQ is facing.

In an emailed statement, Mayor Glenn wrote, “Dysart, Iowa, is a small town. We care about our residents and do our best to champion and support local businesses.”

“When presented with the opportunity for Dollar General to move to Dysart, we had conversations with many business owners and residents, as well as a small town grocer that had a Dollar General move to their town.”

“Our hope was that bringing Dollar General to town would drive up the local economy and keep folks shopping in Dysart rather than heading out of town to buy necessities.”

“Bobby’s Grocery & BBQ and the Torres Family are important to our community. While they have faced many challenges over the last few years, our hope is that they will be able to restructure and grow as a successful Dysart business.”

“Many of us depend on them for groceries, deli lunches, BBQ, enjoy visiting the store, and appreciate all they do for our community.”

If the online fundraiser is successful and the store’s debt is paid off and the shelves are restocked, then what? Bobby and Sara both admitted the $75,000 – though absolutely necessary to keep the doors open at this juncture – is not, in the long run, going to save the store. There’s really only one solution for that.

“The best way to support us,” Bobby said, “is to shop here.”

Those interested in helping Bobby’s Grocery & BBQ – which currently employs 10 people – can donate to either the online fundraiser (https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-bobbys-grocery-bbq-stay-open) or at Dysart State Bank, 301 Main St, Dysart, IA 52224.

The Torres family is also seeking investment partners who “believe in our mission and are willing to support us financially.” Those with serious investment inquiries are asked to email torresbobandsara@gmail.com or call 512-680-9367 to arrange a meeting.

Telegraph note: This story is scheduled to print in next week’s edition (Friday, June 21) of the newspaper. It is being printed online now due to the urgency of the subject matter.