Pine Ridge grocery shoppers facing possible pause in service

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PINE RIDGE, S.D. (KOTA TV) -- Grocery shoppers in Pine Ridge village appear headed to a break in service during the transfer to new management at the tribe-owned grocery store.

Tribal leaders and the store's new managers had hoped for a smooth transition that would enable the store to stay open but say now that that looks unlikely.

But shoppers won't be left totally out in the cold. The new managers say they will offer bus service to off-reservation stores during the transition.

The Oglala Sioux Tribal council voted in November to award the contract to operate the Sioux Nation Shopping Center to Buche Foods, a family-owned East River grocery and convenience store company. Hi-Way 20 had operated the Pine Ridge store for more than 50 years.

Hi-Way 20 has until March 31 to sell down its inventory and remove its equipment from the premises. Tribal leaders and Buche representatives had hoped for a smooth transfer but say the process has hit snags and that it appears likely the store will have to shut down for a time to allow Hi-Way 20 to remove its equipment and Buche to move new cooler, shelves and registers in.

Tribal council members also expressed concerns that store prices were going up as Hi-Way 20 was selling down its inventory.

"In the process of trying to get rid of his inventory he's actually increased his prices which makes it more costly for our already poverty-stricken community to get groceries," said OST Council member Richard Greenwald. "It's a little frustrating to see that."

Buche Foods CEO R.F. Buche said planned to have his new store up and running in Pine Ridge before the end of April but that there will likely be some time when the store is closed, perhaps starting in march.

"I'm going to provide busing for the customers on my dime to make sure they are still able to get groceries," he said, adding that the buses will probably shuttle shoppers from Pine Ridge Village to a grocery store in Martin. "It'll be at least two bus trips a week," he said, "and if I can, I'll try to do it every day."

Buche said he would continue to operate a hardware store and an auto parts store in the same locations they are today in the Sioux Nation building.

He also said he was working to connect with all of the store's existing managers and staff and wanted to keep them employed when he takes over.

Greenwald said he would hold Buche to pledges the grocer made to the employees when he was awarded the contract.

"I told him, 'I expect that you're going to keep those promises,'" he said.

Calls to Hi-Way 20 were not returned by air time.