CAIRO — Lights will soon be on in one more building on Cairo’s Sycamore Street. If all goes as planned, a new grocery store will open in town this fall.
Sterling Moody, president of St. Louis-based Harvest Marketplace LLC, was contacted by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin’s office nearly a year ago to see about his company providing relief to the people of Cairo. Since 2015, residents of the city between the rivers have had no local option for groceries, making it a food desert. Since this time, Moody and his team have been working out the logistics.
They are well on their way to completing their plans.
“We purchased the NAPA building and (are) going to put (in) a full service grocery store, specializing in meat and produce, then have small little businesses inside,” Moody said of the storefront on the north end of town. He said when he first started visiting the city, he was struck not just by the needs in Cairo, but by its possibilities.
“The town has so much potential, but everyone is, like, on the sideline waiting for someone to run the first play,” he said.
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Moody, who has nearly 40 years of grocery experience, is well aware of the previous endeavors to start businesses, a grocery store included, in the city that have not worked. He said his plan is not to rely just on residents of Cairo to drive business, it needs to be a destination store.
“This is the key — will a grocery store alone in Cairo make it? I’m not sure … but what happens is if you make it a destination market, the little towns that the Cairo people are going to, to shop, we can probably draw people to that from there to Cairo,” he said.
Charles Bussey, partial owner of Harvest Marketplace, said grocery stores are big energy consumers, which is part of why they have decided to install solar panels at their new location. Bussey said he is currently waiting for calculations from WindSolarUSA, of Springfield, as to how much of their energy needs will be met by the solar system, but said they plan to use as much solar energy as they can.
Moody said this decision was driven by economics.
Harvest Marketplace will use money from Illinois Fresh Food Funds. Because of this, Moody said he had to bring in highly-trained people to run the market. The grocery store’s manager, who has 22 years experience with Aldi in St. Louis, will be relocating to run the store.
The new grocery store will mean more than food for Cairo — it will mean jobs. Moody said Harvest Marketplace will add 27 jobs, 14 to 16 of which will be full time. He said this does not include the boutiques the retail space will offer.
Moody is excited to bring these opportunities to town and even though they are in the early phases of renovating their retail space, he said the buzz is catching on.
On Monday, Moody and his crew went to Cairo to do a meet and greet with the community. They served lunch and said hello to their new neighbors. He said people thanked them not only for lunch, but for the potential he and his team were bringing to Cairo.
“One lady (said), ‘I’ve been wanting to cook pork chops and greens, they don’t sell that at the (Dollar General) here. I can’t even get fresh produce — I can’t buy bananas,’” he recalled being told.
Moody said the hope the store will bring will be vital, especially for the predominantly black population in Cairo.
“As African-American kids grow up, if we ever going to overcome some of the problems and challenges, we have to physically be able to touch and see success stories not the TV, not the athletes … we have to be able to see community success stories,” he said.
If all goes as planned, Moody said Harvest Marketplace, as well as a sit-down restaurant and an ice cream parlor, will open between October and November of this year.
On Twitter: @ismithreports