Skip to main content

Illinois Rolls Out Grant Program for Small Grocers

Initiative aimed at supporting indies and co-ops in food deserts
Lynn Petrak, Progressive Grocer
To help eradicate food deserts in rural and urban parts of the state, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker announced a new grant program for small grocery operators. (Image credit: Gov. Pritzker Facebook)

The State of Illinois is invested in the future of the grocery industry – literally. This week, Governor JB Pritzker and Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton announced an addition to the Illinois Grocery Initiative that would offer grants to those who build grocery stores in food deserts.

Officially called the New Stores in Food Deserts Program, the project will allot funds ranging between $160,000 and $2.4 million to supermarket operators, with a 1:3 match requirement from businesses. The grants can be used to help cover the construction and renovation of new stores, along with startup costs like wages, utilities, initial food orders and more. 

There are other requirements to qualify for the grant. In addition to being located in a defined food desert, the proposed business must earn less than 30% of its revenue from alcohol and tobacco sales, must accept SNAP and WIC benefits and must contribute to diversity of fresh foods available in the community.

[RELATED: L.A. Grocery Entrepreneur Shares Her Fresh Take]

The state also set up parameters for the type of grocery operation that can receive a grant. Qualified entities include independent grocers, co-ops or units of local government with fewer than 500 employees. Retailers that run more than four grocery locations are not eligible. 

"The truth is: Too many people live in food deserts, and it's contributing to an ongoing public health crisis. As we celebrate the launch of our second Illinois Grocery Initiative grant program today, we aim to support local entrepreneurs and communities as they open new grocery stores in food deserts," Pritzker said. "This is a first-of-its-kind state government investment — and it will have a significant impact on under-served rural towns and urban neighborhoods dealing firsthand with the struggles of food access."

Earlier, Illinois launched the Equipment Upgrades Program as part of the Grocery Initiative first announced in August 2023. The equipment program provides grants for energy-efficient upgrades in small grocery stores, so retailers can keep operating and meeting the needs of community members struggling with access to fresh, healthy food. 

Together, the two programs represent a $20 million effort to stem grocery store closings in Illinois. "The Equipment Upgrades Program and New Stores in Food Deserts Program are perfect examples of the good government can do. Every community — urban and rural — deserves access to fresh, nutrient-dense, and culturally relevant food," Stratton remarked. "One in four Illinoisans live in a food desert, many crossing county or even state lines to reach the nearest grocery store. Incentivizing local, independent grocers is a way to help eliminate food deserts and that is a win-win for everyone."

Pritzker earmarked $10 million for the Illinois Grocery Initiative in his proposed budget for the 2025 fiscal year and has called for the permanent elimination of the state grocery tax.

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds