State and local officials, including Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton and Cairo Mayor Thomas Simpson, were on hand for the grand opening.
Cairo is the southernmost city in the state of Illinois, located at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Although it’s known from a geographic standpoint, the town of 1,700 residents was without a local grocery store for seven years.
Its status as a food desert changed with the June 16 opening of a food co-operative, Rise Community Market, at 3010 Sycamore Street. The endeavor has been a joint one, via collaboration between groups including The Kroger Co., Winkler Foods, Southernmost Illinois Delta Empowerment Zone, University of Illinois System’s Illinois Innovation Network, the University of Illinois Extension’s SNAP-ED program, Western Illinois University’s Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs, Tri-State Food Bank and more. The store received more than $700,000 in grants from supporting organizations and was built with a crew of local contractors and volunteers.
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Co-op members pay $100 for a lifetime membership to receive benefits and keep the store’s operations going. Ownership is not a requirement for grocery purchases, however.
“So many in the community of Cairo have come to realize through this project that their strength and resolve are the keys to rebuilding their community,” said John Shadowens, community economic development educator at the Extension program. “Rise Community Market demonstrates that when, as engaged citizens, they decide to come together to meet a need, there is plenty of outside help and resources available to them.”
Juliana Stratton, the state’s lieutenant governor, was on hand for the grand opening. “Cairo is a model for entrepreneurship and collaboration that can be replicated elsewhere in the state,” she declared.
In addition to selling grocery essentials including meat, fresh produce, canned goods and other items, Rise Community Market includes an onsite restaurant, the Rise and Shine Café. The store is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
The dearth of grocery stores in rural communities remains a real issue. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 76 counties around the country do not have a single grocery store and more than a third of those are in the Great Plains and Midwest regions.