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Sterling Moody

Sterling Moody poses for a portrait Friday in the Harvest Market East St. Louis location that is currently under construction. Moody is also working to bring a Harvest Market to Cairo.

CAIRO — Progress again appears to be stalled in Cairo’s attempt to bring fresh groceries to town.

The old NAPA Auto Parts building on the city’s northern end looks much like it did when Sterling Moody signed the lease last year, save a tattered “Coming Soon” sign for his yet-to-be-realized Harvest Market grocery store.

Moody signed a one-year lease for the space in April and has since struggled to get funding for the store, which he hoped would provide healthy, fresh options for Cairo’s residents who have been without a grocery store since 2015 when the Wonder Market closed. In fact, Moody made a splash in the first half of 2017 when he cooked out in front of the proposed Harvest Market location and met the locals.

When asked Monday about the store’s progress, Moody abruptly said “Cairo is doing their store their self … They are going their own route,” before hanging up the phone.

Moody said to ask Mayor Tyrone Coleman about the potential of a grocery store opening in the city.

Coleman was honest — the city is in much the same place as it has been for the last two years. Coleman said the city has been talking regularly with interested developers — be they for housing or for food — but he said you can’t fill your belly on talk.

The city needs action, and Coleman said he needs more than words to get his hopes up.

“I’m at the point now where I’ll believe it when I see it,” he said, adding that he believes he will before too long.

Coleman said said finances have been a concern for the Harvest Market project since the beginning — he said Moody and his partners have not yet made a lease payment this year and missed at least one payment last year.

The Southern reported in June that Moody had personal financial struggles, as well as struggles with the Missouri Office of Secretary of State regarding his attempts to fund another Harvest Market in East St. Louis. Documents reviewed by the paper show Moody signed a consent order Sept. 27, 2016, agreeing to repay $62,500 in restitution to an unnamed Missouri resident.

Coleman said that he was in talks with other grocery providers, and one of them is particularly interested in the NAPA building. He said he hopes to know soon how serious Moody is about a recent commitment he made to not stand in the way of progress in Cairo, even if it didn’t involve him as the developer.

Steven Tarver, with his brother, Shawn Tarver, and associate Marcella Woodson-Ursey, have been working to bring lifeblood back to Cairo and have been especially energized since it was announced April 2017 that the 185 families living in the McBride and Elmwood public housing complexes would have to relocate.

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Steven Tarver

Steven Tarver, co-founder of Cairo’s Men of Power, Women of Strength poses for a portrait June 30, 2017.

Though the group often bumps heads with the city, Coleman had to give them credit for the list of people they have looking at Cairo as a potential investment site.

Steven Tarver said he and his group have been working to keep the momentum going despite several setbacks from both Moody and the city — they have been trying make room for tangible development of the NAPA site in particular. Tarver said it was too soon to name names, but, like Coleman, he said there is another party interested in the site. He said Men of Power Women of Strength, a Cairo-based community volunteer group, is trying to arrange a multi-use grocery store/gas station facility for Cairo.

Steven Tarver also said that it’s his hope to write in to a potential contract that positions of authority within a franchise would be given to a set number of locals, making it less likely that the business would ever leave Cairo.

It’s an uphill battle. Still, Coleman said he’s not married to one company or developer over the other — he said he could not “care less” who it is so long as Cairo gets what it needs.

Coleman said seeing Cairo reach this place of being almost barren of basic services — a gas station and grocery store specifically — is something he never thought he’d see.

“I never thought that Cairo would become a food desert,” he said.

Coleman said he thinks there will be progress made, but it may take longer than some people think.

“We are going to get the grocery store and we are going to get the businesses coming back into the area. I have no doubt about that,” he said. “We didn’t get to this place overnight and we are not going to come out of it overnight.”

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isaac.smith@thesouthern.com

618-351-5823

On Twitter: @ismithreports

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Reporter

Isaac Smith is a reporter covering Franklin and Williamson counties.

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