Toronto, Kan. — The Kansas Sampler Project has a prescription for struggling small-town businesses:
Take one $5 infusion of cash.
Then repeat it 999 times.
So far, the approach has breathed new life into its first patient, the Lizard Lips Grill and Deli, located just outside Toronto on U.S. Highway 54.
"It's been remarkable," said Linda Geffert, co-owner of the eatery. "It's taken on a life of its own."
The Kansas Sampler Foundation is urging 1,000 of its members to spend $5 apiece at the combination gas station, convenience store and cafe, which offers T-shirts, candy and humor as it dishes out home-cooked food.
Halfway through the inaugural yearlong effort, nearly 600 members have met the pledge. So have scores of other people who are not members but heard about the effort through the media or friends.
Bursting through the door with a car full of friends, one woman blurted, "We're here to save you!"
Another woman talked her tour bus driver into stopping when she realized they'd be passing by, and the passengers packed the place.
And then there was the grandmother from Kansas City who gave her granddaughter five bucks and marching orders: Spend it at Lizard Lips.
"I'm really thrilled with the snowball effect," said Marci Penner, president of the foundation, which promotes and preserves rural culture. "I'm also really intrigued with how good people are feeling about helping. They go spend their five bucks, and they let me know they feel really good about it."
Lizard Lips sits atop a hill overlooking the Flint Hills. That isolation adds to its appeal, but subtracts from its bottom line.
Without enough volume to purchase products at cheaper bulk prices, the store struggles to get by each year. And with increasing minimum purchases needed to access suppliers, that challenge continues to get tougher for small stores such as Geffert's.
Geffert said the foundation's project has been just the kind of kick-start her business needed and not just from the infusion of cash.
"The awareness in our local trade area has definitely increased," she said. "Some have rediscovered us, and others have found us for the first time.