University News

WIU's IIRA Program Helping Bring Grocery Store to Cairo Illinois

June 9, 2023

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MACOMB, IL – After two years of extensive work, the Alexander County city of Cairo, IL, will open a cooperative grocery store this month, thanks to assistance from the Illinois Institute of Rural Affairs at Western Illinois University and its Illinois Cooperative Development Center (ICDC).

Through a project, headed by Sean Park, ICDC Manager, the store will hold its grand opening Friday, June 16, in an area that was previously considered to be a "food desert."

The partnership between the IIRA and the city of Cairo began in 2021, after Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton asked Park to reach out to Cairo Mayor Thomas Simpson. The request came after Park made a presentation about his work to the Governor's Rural Affairs Council.

In the early months of the project, Simpson identified key stakeholders to collaborate with Park. A 17,000 square-foot, city-owned building, named the McGinness Building, was identified as a possible site for the store.

Through the process of developing a cooperative-model grocery store, Park helped with the site, business plan, by-laws, helped file the Articles of Incorporation, form its board of directors, obtain coolers and other grocery store equipment and designed the floor plan. He also wrote and submitted a $183,609 R3 grant application on the city's behalf to help pay for the project.

Park delivered the initial draft of his "Cairo Community Supported Grocery" plan to Cairo officials in December 2021. After almost two years of work, the new store is now opening its doors.

The ICDC helps community-owned businesses get started, with a particular focus on small-town grocery stores.

Park and his team have worked with a number of communities to bring food options to small communities. Park's team is made up of Cooperative Program Coordinator Kristin Terry and Local Food Program Coordinator Whitney Miller.

For more information about the ICDC, visit

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