Tuesday is delivery day in Little River.

That means semi-tractor trailer trucks line the middle of Main Street unloading supplies at the local grocery, restaurant and lumberyard.

Just east of here the Little Arkansas River meanders, lending its name to the town. Located just over a mile north of U.S. 56 in eastern Rice County, between Lyons and McPherson, it’s where several businesses anchor this Main Street. Determination keeps them going, despite the highs and lows of operating in tough economic times in a town of less than 600 people. Often, they must explore ways of reinventing themselves.

That’s how the Little Ol’ Cookie House, a local business, continues to survive. Located in a building on Main Street, it would be easy to drive right past because the sign has almost faded away. But, step inside and the message on the wall – “Life is too short...Eat Cookies” is evidence you are in the right spot. This is where a 1,000-pound mixer produces 10,000 pounds of cookie dough a day.

The business began in Carolyn Wright-Cheney’s farmhouse kitchen back in 1988. It was her simple love of a good chocolate chip cookie which turned into selling the cookie dough in the retail marketplace. However, in 1992 she ran into trouble with expensive fees trying to find slots in various markets. She was forced to file bankruptcy. However, determination kept her going and she began a niche market selling tubs of her cookie dough to churches, schools and other organizations who were looking for a way to raise money.

The business really doesn’t need a sign, customers know how to find them on the their website www.cookiehouse.com. The dough made in Little River is sold to groups like a hockey club in Connecticut and a high school in New Mexico. Even around the area, schools and organizations use the cookie dough as a fundraiser. They have added scented candles, and other gourmet foods to their product line.

Now, Carolyn’s son Wade Wright and his wife, Cindy, are taking over the business, which includes an automated production facility. Wright is working on expanding their market to include retail, institutional and restaurant stores with both baked and frozen dough. They also do custom jobs including baking 10,000 cakes for a home shopping network.

Supporting each other

Meanwhile,the Garden of Eden, down the block from the cookie house, is the only grocery store in the world currently selling the dough.

On this morning the store bustles as five high school students from a life skills class stock the shelves with new products. Shoppers maneuver grocery carts around them, as other customers stand in the back by the meat counter waiting to place orders for fresh meats and cheeses. In the back, David Nelson sorts more supplies.

It has been 10 years since he and his wife, Debra, bought the grocery store. Almost a year ago Nelson stood during a chamber dinner and spoke bluntly to his community, telling them if they didn’t start shopping local it would close by the end of June. Business doubled in the weeks after he spoke.

Yet, Nelson says, the community might need to hear the message again. The first four months were pretty decent after Nelson gave his talk.

“Then it slacked off,” he said.

But he admits he just came through a good Christmas season.

“One month doesn’t pull you through the other 11,” Nelson said. “The community has to support it and spend money.”

He estimates they have 150 sales a day, in a town of about 600 people that’s one-third of people walking through the door. However the average sale is about $7.50.

“If they would just double that to $15, we would be profitable,” Nelson said. To cover his expenses, utilities and salaries, he needs the $15 sales.

At the same time the community counts on the store. It’s where they run just before a blizzard hits to stock up on supplies. Or during harvest, busy crews of workers stop by for pulled-pork sandwiches, chips and a Pepsi. It’s Little River’s answer to fast food.

Nick Mattson was standing in line waiting to check out during the noon rush. Every day he stops in the store to purchase his lunch and supper.

“I would hate to have to go out of town for groceries,” Mattson said.


Nelson counts on Shad and Amanda Byard, owners of Oliver’s Beef and Brew, to regularly order the beef they serve from him. The couple also own Oliver’s in Hutchinson, which will be moving to 30th Avenue.

From Hutchinson, the Byards live on his grandparent’s farm outside of Little River. In 1995 he opened the first Oliver’s, a drive through and bait shop, on Fourth Avenue in Hutchinson. They sold that business and opened the business on Second Avenue. Then he learned the owner of Fat Boyz and Grill, in Little River, was looking to sell. The Byards decided to open the Little River business, bringing the menu from Hutchinson. Each restaurant is a very self-sufficient operation, he says.

On Tuesday the restaurant was busy with a lunch crowd. Randy King, Wichita, times his deliveries to the local lumberyard so he can eat lunch at Oliver’s.

“Every Tuesday is taco day,” King said, regarding his regular stop.

Business really picks up on Saturday nights when people come from across the region for the Garden of Eden steaks. The first Saturday night of the month is prime rib night. Byard recommends making a reservation.

Sprucing up Main Street

Across the street from Oliver’s at Accelerated Mortgages Solutions Jessie Godfrey and Jamie Hubin were excited about some upcoming changes on Main Street, including a $750,000 Streetscape Project.

A group of residents and the Little River Foundation applied and recently received $475,000 from the Kansas Department of Transportation for the project. The grant includes new light poles and crosswalks, ADA ramps and accessibility, curb and gutter, new benches, planters and a new welcome sign. The Little River Foundation contributed $215,574 to the project and the city contributed $50,000. According to Godfrey, they are waiting to let the bid and will begin shortly after that.

A sense of place

Little River has become home for Stephanie Young, after moving from Florida five years ago.

“I always consider the store when I shop,” Young said.

She makes a conscious decision to shop locally. The prices compare to the larger stores and sometimes she can get items cheaper in The Garden of Eden. She finds a lot of stuff reasonably priced, such as a pound of organic carrots for 99 cents. It’s where she buys her local honey and even wedding shower gifts.

Young loves the sense of community she feels in the school, the church, and even walking through the grocery store or stopping for her mail at the post office.

“It’s personal,” she said.