EUREKA, S.D. (KELO) — “You are in Eureka, South Dakota right now and we’re dry.”
That’s the introduction Eureka Mayor Dennis Heilman gave when meeting in the city offices Monday afternoon to discuss how the driest June on record has been affecting the north-central town with a population of roughly 900.
Heilman recalls the mild winter months, where very little snow fell around Eureka. A dry spring followed along with scorching hot temperatures in June.
“I’ve never seen a winter like that in my life,” Heilman said. “We’re completely dry.”
More recent rains have brought a much-needed lifeline to many of the rural area crops, but like many cattle producers across the state, finding feed for cows has been tough.
“They are a huge part of our community and a huge part of the revenue stream,” Eureka business owner James Croshaw said about cattle producers. “They are maybe cutting even or maybe paying out of their own pocket to have the animals.”
Croshaw owns Lakeside Lumber and Hardware as well as Lakeside Farm and Ranch. He said from the perspective of his lumber business, people haven’t wanted to do any additions because of how unsure they are about the impacts of the drought.
“A lot of them have already lost their wheat, they’ve lost their oats,” Croshaw said. “Unless we get a lot more rain, they could lose their corn.”
Heilman said spending is in a holding pattern right now which hasn’t hit the city or many downtown businesses yet.
“With the city it’s going to be sale’s tax,” Heilman said. “Nobody is buying machinery. The thing is they aren’t putting preorders in like they normally do. This is going to take a while to actually impact Eureka.”
When asked about how you prepare for impacts from the doubt, Heilman said there’s not much city officials can do.
“You just hope things get better. That’s what we’re hoping for,” said Heilman, who was just elected to his position in 2020 and will serve until 2024.
Croshaw, who is also the president of the Eureka Community Development Company, added once all the crops are harvested in the fall, another assessment will be made by many area farmers.
“It affects everyone, because if the farmers do good, then we all do good,” Croshaw said. “But if they don’t, then we don’t.”
Advice for small town business owners: ‘Think outside the box’
The timing of the impact of this drought follows roughly one year after the COVID-19 pandemic started, which threw many prices and markets out of sync.
Croshaw said the pandemic helped his business some early on because people bought more locally because they didn’t want to travel. But he added since June 2020, prices have increased for many products. The price of lumber skyrocketed over the spring months and has started to come back down,
“We just found out steel is going to go up again here at the end of the month,” Croshaw said. “There’s also just a lot of things you just can’t get.”
Croshaw worked as a builder for more than 20 years and never thought he’d own a retail business. He called being a business owner a “learning experience.”
“Think outside the box. Being in a small town, you can’t just do one thing and survive,” Croshaw said. “You have to see what else you can bring into your business to offer services or products.”
While Eureka has seen many businesses come and go over the years, in the past five years a new hospital has been built along with new buildings for a pharmacy, boutique and office space.
A Dollar General store has also recently come to town, but the town’s lone gas station convenience store has been closed and the building is listed for sale.
Some days, there is only one spot serving meals during the day in Eureka, a void members of the Eureka Golf Course are trying to fill while fundraising for upgrades to the course’s irrigation system.
Croshaw said he was “very optimistic” about the future of small town Main Street businesses. He noted there’s been an uptick in the housing market in Eureka.
“Where there hasn’t been a housing market, there’s now a housing market and that creates a lot of opportunities,” Croshaw said. “New people coming in, new ideas.”
‘A city like this will pull together’
In mid-July, triple-digit hot temperatures are once again appearing in the seven-day forecast for many areas of South Dakota including Eureka. Many areas in north-central and northeastern South Dakota are nearly 6-inches short of moisture for the yearly average.
The uncertainty of the drought’s impact weighs heavy on many people’s minds, but both Croshaw and Heilman stressed rough times aren’t anything new for many farmers and livestock producers.
“Everybody seems to be supporting each in times like these,” Heilman said. “A city like this will pull together.”
With some greener crops appearing alongside roadsides, Heilman said there’s a “small glimmer of hope” the corn and soybeans will hold on with timely rainfall.
Croshaw said people in the community need to stay positive and help each other out where they can.
“We’re all in this together,” Croshaw said.
“We’re going to have to work our way through it just like we have before,” Heilman said. “That’s when a community comes together and helps each other. That’s the only way this town is going to make it.”