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Bakken grocery bills hard to swallow: Dickinson food prices at or above national, Midwest average

The tale has spread that it's possible to make a fortune out in the Bakken, but so has the tale of how it takes a fortune to live here.

"I just came back from Orlando, (Fla.) with the National Association of Realtor meetings, and just visiting with the other Realtors and what they're hearing about North Dakota; the only thing I didn't like was when they said that we know we have a lot of jobs in North Dakota but it's too expensive to live here," Dickinson City Commissioner and Realtor Shirley Dukart said. "I didn't like that feeling that we were portraying here. I know the rents we can't control and we can't control motel charges, housing, you know, everything is pretty much free enterprise."

Food can be a giant expense in anyone's budget, but those coming from other regions, especially metro areas, are noticing a larger grocery bill.

Teresa and Edgar Marquez, who moved here with their daughter, Emily, from Denver, have noticed their grocery bill has more than doubled while living in Dickinson.

Noting the difference between Denver and Dickinson, Teresa said, "I would say $150 every two-and-a-half, two weeks and here it's $300 every two weeks, and then during the week, I'm still coming back getting stuff because we didn't get it while we were here."

Katelyn Schirado noticed that prices were higher in Dickinson than they were in Bismarck.

A large part of the cost of groceries is transportation, Bismarck-based North Dakota Grocers Association President Tom Woodmansee said.

"(In) Bismarck, the warehouse is here," he said. "So obviously you don't have the transportation costs in Bismarck that you have for Dickinson."

The further a store is from the distribution center, the higher its overhead, Woodmansee said. Add in the higher cost of labor in the Bakken and prices creep up even more.

Where does Dickinson fall on the grocery price spectrum? Out of nine goods pulled (white bread, wheat bread, turkey, whole milk, apples, potatoes, sugar, margarine and coffee) for which October's average prices were available through the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, six were higher in Dickinson than both the national and Midwest average, which consisted of prices from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

In two instances -- wheat bread and turkey -- the average price in Dickinson on Saturday was lower than the national and Midwest average in October, but pre-Thanksgiving sales could be a contributing factor. Sugar prices were about even, with Dickinson and the Midwest average at 66 cents per pound, coming in 2 cents less than the national average.

The Dickinson average price was determined by gathering prices of brand name and generic goods (where applicable) Saturday from Dan's Super Market and Walmart.

Pricing comes down to supply and demand, Woodmansee said.

"Our retailers are very aware of what the community needs," he said, "I can assure you they're doing the best they can to keep their supplies there, but they have to depend upon the support system they have in place."

The Marquez family has had difficulty shopping at peak times and has had to split their shopping between Dickinson's two major grocers.

"If we don't come early in the morning or late at night, we don't get any choices of vegetables or fruit or anything," Teresa said.

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
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