New initiative to reinvent grocery stores in rural, poor Illinois communities

Published: Mar. 17, 2023 at 6:33 PM CDT
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WINCHESTER, Ill. (WGEM) - Residents across rural Illinois struggle with access to basic food essentials.

That’s why there’s a new push underway to reinvent small grocery stores in Illinois.

Pritzker announced the Illinois Grocery Initiative in his State of the State and Budget Address on Feb. 15, 2023. The initiative gives undeserved rural towns and urban neighborhoods a chance to open or expand on grocery stores in the area.

Pritzker said the budget for 2024 includes $20 million to launch the initiative, with an additional $2 million going towards purchasing healthy, nutritious food from Illinois farmers.

Pritzker said that the government recognizes that giving families more money to shop with does no good if the families have no where to grocery shop locally.

Great Scott! is an example of this grocery store model, run by the community for the community.

“It’s a co-op grocery store,” said the store’s manager Thomas Coonrod. “So it’s got many facets to the ownership behind it.”

Coonrod said Great Scott! gets produce and meat from local farmers. And volunteers will step in to run the store, though some employees are paid.

Overall, it keeps the cost lower and keeps the dollars in the community local.

“We have a board that meets quarterly,” Coonrod said. “And kind of go over what’s been going well for the store or what’s not quite working.”

Coonrod said before Great Scott! opened in 2018, there was no place in Winchester to find basic produce and meat.

“If somebody comes with a SNAP or EBT card, we’re able to offer them fresh food, not just convenience, pre-made food,” Coonrod said. “That’s not healthy.”

Winchester Mayor Rex McIntire said he endorses the model.

“When I graduated high school back in the 70′s, we had four grocery stores,” McIntire said. “And then it dwindled down to one and then we had none.”

McIntire said residents had to drive to Pittsfield or Jacksonville for groceries.

“The ones I really felt terrible for were the ones that were immobile,” McIntire said. “Some of the older folks couldn’t drive. And they had no place in town to get their groceries.”

McIntire said Great Scott! is bringing in people from neighboring counties who still live in food deserts.

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