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'Refreshing, Exciting, Convenient': South Peoria Neighbors Celebrate News Of Grocery Store

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Hannah Alani
/
WCBU
Willie Simmons plans to open N & Out Market in South Peoria in September 2021.

Every day on his walk home from Peoria Manual High School, Tramere Cornelius passes a vacant building at the intersection of Western Avenue and Martin Street.

Tall strands of grass grow out of cracks in the parking lot and the fading marks of an old “Save-A-Lot” sign grace the walls of the beige-colored building. The building's been vacant for years, but that's about to change — Harvest Supermarket, a full-service grocery store, could open as soon as 2022.

Cornelius, 17, was excited to learn the news on Tuesday afternoon. He said his family typically drives 15 to 20 minutes to the closest Kroger in East Peoria to grocery shop. Having a place five minutes away will be life-changing.

“It’s gonna be refreshing, exciting and convenient," he said. "That’s what we need around here. ... It shows that there’s opportunities around here, that we can do something nice. We’ve got a bad perception here. I don’t know why, but it is what it is.”

The person behind Harvest Supermarket is local pastor Chuck Brown, who signed a three-year lease at 210 S. Western Ave. Brown is currently targeting an opening date sometime in February 2022 and looks to hire 20 employees.

Aldi first opened a store at 210 S. Western in 1989, and closed in 2014. Save-A-Lot opened in 2017, but closed up shop after less than a year in business.

Peoria's South Side became a food desert when Kroger closed its store in Madison Park Shopping Center in 2018.

"The concept that I came up with, obviously, you know, with the south side of Peoria and other urban areas across the country struggling, you know, with what's considered a food desert, not having access to healthy food choices, produce and deli and such," Brown told WCBU earlier this week.

Tomas Jimenez, 17, grew up in the neighborhood. He usually buys his food at Western Market & Da Catch, a convenience store at the corner of Howett and Western.

Jimenez works at an auto shop a few blocks south of where Harvest Supermarket will be. He said he’s excited to have a place nearby to grab food before and after work.

“I think it’s pretty great, honestly, especially down here in the South End. More business down here would be good for the economy down here,” he said. “I personally think it would be great to see some restaurants down here.”

Ultimately, Brown said he hopes the Harvest Supermarket serves as an impetus for more reinvestment in the 61605 ZIP code. Peoria's South Side is considered to be one of the poorest ZIP codes in the United States. About two-thirds of the neighborhood's population is Black.

Marvin Hightower, president of the Peoria chapter of the NAACP, said the South Side of Peoria was once a thriving business district. He hopes this grocery store will spur additional economic development and opportunities for residents.

“I'm hoping that this, along with the new fire station as well as the road construction project, will open up opportunities for other entrepreneurs to step forward,” he said. “It's been 30 to 35 years, as we all know, of disinvestment down there. So it will be an economic driver and a boost to our economy here in Peoria. … It will affect all of the districts, not just 61605, if this one district is lifted up.”

South Side native Willie Simmons said that’s already happening.

Simmons grew up near Martin Street and his family still lives in the neighborhood. Last month, he opened apparel store TNT Outlet on Jefferson Street.

Next month he plans to open “N & Out Market,” a convenience store and fried fish restaurant at 304 S. Western Ave. — exactly one block south of the planned Harvest Supermarket.

In addition to selling hot meals and basic grocery items, Simmons will have a microwave, stove and Keurig for community use.

Though they’ll both sell food, Simmons said he doesn’t see Brown’s Harvest Supermarket as competition.

“I think it will be pretty good for the community. While I’m doing the things that I’m doing, I think we can piggy-back off of each other,” he said. “From the meats and delis that he’s wanting to do, the fresh cuts and produce, I’ll be looking more for convenience. … I think it will be something great.”

Chris Setti, CEO of the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council, wishes Brown success.    

“There's a lot of convenience foods that are available at gas stations, at liquor stores, at the Dollar Store,” he said. “But in terms of fresh produce, fresh meats, more healthier options, there just isn't as much available, obviously.”

First District council member Denise Jackson declined to comment Tuesday, citing a lack of information about the project.

In addition to the supermarket, Brown plans to run two other businesses out of the South Peoria facility. "Dinner At Your Door" features a food court and a delivery service. "Brown Coffee and Cream" will offer up breakfast pastries, as well as items like sweet potato pie and peach cobbler.

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