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Sen. Braun visits Chesterton Strack & Van Til
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Sen. Braun visits Chesterton Strack & Van Til

The grocery business can be tough.

The competition is fierce and the margins razor-thin, often no more than 1%.

It's expensive to operate the large stores that are necessary to offer the selection modern consumers expect. Thousands of new products hit the market every year, and there's only so much shelf space.

And retailers must continually reinvest in their stores to keep them looking nice and modern.

Strack & Van Til CEO Jeff Strack, who serves on the National Grocers Association Board of Directors, hosted U.S. Sen. Mike Braun Thursday for a tour of the Chesterton Strack & Van Til to explain those challenges.

"Part of the association is that they do lobbying for the grocery industry, for the independents," Strack said. "They like to get congressmen in front of grocers throughout the country and introduce them to some of the things we go through on a daily basis. Hopefully, back in Washington, when they're on committees and so forth they can put a face to a name and to a business and see how it related to potential policies they're discussing."

Grocers have several issues they hope Congress will address, including SNAP funding, high credit card fees, and a mistake in the tax code that makes it harder for retailers to expense investments back to their facilities, Strack said.

Braun, a first-term Republican, toured Porter County Thursday. He said he was impressed with Strack's recently renovated Chesterton store, which has extensive selections of organic produce, sushi and other perishable foods.

"The store is amazing," he said. "I live down in Jasper, Indiana, and we have a great retail establishment but I have to say this is one of the neatest grocery stores I've ever been in. It looks like they're trying to stay up with the leading edge, keep up with the new stuff."

He said he was working in the Senate to create a favorable business climate for retailers like Strack & Van Til.

"In my short time in Washington, D.C., just four months, what we can do most there is make it easier for great places like this to not be burdened with unnecessary regulation," he said. "I think a lot of that has been happening over the last two years. I've been an entrepreneur and business owner, a farmer, just involved with a lot of stuff. I can tell you the economy is about as strong as I've ever seen it... My job as a U.S. senator is to make sure we keep the atmosphere healthy in small communities and the businesses within them, to keep the federal government from causing as many complications instead of looking ahead to be the solution."

Braun said he wished the health care industry operated more like the grocery business.

"The grocery industry is one that operates in a true atmosphere of free enterprise," he said. "You've got all kinds of competition... It's transparent, you can see the pricing. Anyone in it is a true enterpriser and entrepreneur."

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.

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