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There's no shortage of grocery competition in Wahoo.

In addition to the locally owned Wahoo Super, there's a SunMart, a couple of dollar stores, and Hy-Vee and Amazon deliver online orders in the city of 4,500 about 30 miles north of Lincoln.

But despite that competition, the Wahoo Super had no plans to close and even was looking at getting into the online grocery game itself, said Hank Vice, one of the owners of the grocery store in downtown Wahoo.

About a year ago, however, Vice was in a serious car accident, and he's still doing physical therapy to rehab from his injuries.

While he said he feels pretty good, he has some residual disability from the accident that makes it virtually impossible for him to continue to run the store.

Combine that with the fact that his partners, Rex and Diane Kumpula, are ready to retire, and it spells the end of the store after 20 years.

Friday was the last day for the Wahoo Super, which Vice and the Kumpulas opened in June 1999.

Vice and Rex Kumpula had worked together at the predecessor to Wahoo Super, Super K, when they were presented with the opportunity to buy the store.

Things were different then, Vice said.

"There is a lot of competition that when we bought the store was not there," he said.

That competition has driven out locally owned grocery stores in other Nebraska towns.

Eagle lost its only grocery store at the end of 2017. A few months before that, Lovegrove's in Waverly sold to Lincoln's B&R stores. Just more than a year ago, Steube’s Thriftway closed in downtown Plattsmouth.

And earlier this year, the only grocery store in Ravenna, a town of about 1,300 people near Kearney, closed.

Kathy Siefken, executive director of the Nebraska Grocery Industry Association, said there are only about 500 independent grocery stores left in Nebraska, which is less than half as many as there were 25 years ago.

"It's alarming to me," she said.

Siefken said that locally owned stores face a number of challenges, including competition from stores such as Dollar General, low gas prices that make people more willing to drive to larger cities and online shopping and delivery.

Many small-town grocery stores also face the same dilemma that other small businesses face: older owners and no one willing to take over the business when they face health concerns or want to retire.

Vice said he and the Kumpulas tried to sell Wahoo Super and even had discussions with a few independent grocery operators, "but they weren't interested."

The partners do own the building, and Vice said they will find something to do with it, hopefully filling it with another tenant.

The location has a long history with grocery stores, having been a Safeway before Super K and Wahoo Super, although another grocery store seems unlikely.

Vice said he and his partners will miss the store and the customers, as well as the community involvement that came along with owning the store.

"We're proud of a lot of the good things we've done in our community," he said. "We'll miss doing those things."

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2647 or molberding@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LincolnBizBuzz.

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Business editor/reporter

Matt Olberding is a Lincoln native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been covering business for the Journal Star since 2005.

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