Grocery store to end Cairo, Illinois, food desert

For many families, driving to the store to pick up groceries may be a mile or two trip into town, but for people in Cairo, Illinois, the closest grocery store is 8 miles up the highway.

When the grocery store in town closed last December, it forced many people to go out of town — even out of state — to find fresh produce.

Empty shelves and dust-covered storefronts are all that remains at Cairo’s Wonder Market. It closed back in December, leaving people like Paul Jones and his family without easy access to food, especially fresh fruits and vegetables.

"We cannot get what we need without going out of town," said Paul Jones, a longtime Cairo resident.

Without a grocery store in town, people drive up to Mounds, or sometimes all the way to Kentucky or Missouri, to find what they need. Many try shopping at the area’s Dollar General, though many people around town say doesn’t have everything you want.

"Well, most of the time I have to go out of state because of the fact that the things I do need or my wife needs, we can’t get them all at the local Dollar General store," Jones said.

But that’s about to change.

Mayor Demetrius Coleman says construction will start for the New Harvest Market in a few weeks.

The marketplace will be designed specifically to fit Cairo’s needs, Harvest Market President Sterling Moody says. Moody says the Cairo location will be one of five groceries around Illinois and Missouri. This location will take over the former Wonder Market building and include a specialty meat and seafood market and have a big produce section.

Moody says they’re hoping to have the doors open to the public by Dec. 1, just in time for the holiday rush. And for people living in town without access to transportation, having an option to once again buy locally makes a big difference, Jones said.

"It’s going to be a good thing. It can only enhance the community,” he said.

Many in Cairo say they hope the store will bring fresh produce and a fresh start to the community.

The project is expected to cost $1.9 million, paid for through grants and nonprofit funding. 

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