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Pritzker announces $3.5 million in grants for local grocers | Illinois


(The Center Square) – As part of the Illinois Grocery Initiative, eligible local grocers can now apply for funding for energy-efficient equipment upgrades at a $3.5 million cost to taxpayers.

State Sen. Dale Fowler, R-Harrisburg, said rural grocery stores in his district have a hard time competing with the big box stores like Walmart.

“A lot of these little grocery stores, their equipment like coolers and freezers are 60 years old. Their energy bills are through the roof,” Fowler said. “We will see how this unfolds, and then there will be another phase. I have a county in my district, Gallatin County, and there’s not one single grocery store. A lot of these individuals have to go across state lines to buy their groceries.”

Fowler said things like taxation and high energy costs are making it more difficult for rural grocers to buy the equipment on their own.

“It’s going to be interesting to see who, how and why some grocers are awarded and what that vetting process is going to be, $3.5 million is a lot of money, but statewide … it’s not,” said Fowler. “When you spread $3.5 million out throughout the state of Illinois, we’ll see how impactful it is.”

Fowler said the University of Illinois Extension played an integral part in seeing the Equipment Upgrades Program through. Extension did studies and surveys to compile data on the struggles that rural grocery stores are facing.

The Illinois Fuel and Retail Association was initially against the Illinois Grocery Initiative’s Equipment Upgrades Program because the $3.5 million in available grant funding for local grocers would not be made available to convenience stores and non-traditional grocery stores.

Josh Sharp, CEO of the Illinois Fuel and Retail Association, said the association fought to get non-traditional grocery stores included in the law.

“This plan is far from perfect, there’s a lot of our members who would have preferred no legislation, but since this was the route the General Assembly chose to take … we can live with it,” Sharp said.

The association is no longer an opponent of the law but they’re neutral. Non-traditional grocery stores may be eligible after an amendment to the bill was made.

“As long as they [non-traditional grocery stores] can make the case that they are going to carry some of the perishable foods that are listed in the statute … things like: fresh meat, poultry, dairy … that they could be included,” said Sharp.

Sharp said operating costs are too high. For example, the amount of money convenience store owners are paying to credit card companies to process payment has gone up more than double since the pandemic. Labor is the largest operating cost.

“Our direct store operating expenses are through the roof,” said Sharp.

Sharp said Congress is working on legislation.

“As soon as we make the credit card market similar to the debit card market, as it already exists … when you use a debit card there is a choice for retailers to process that payment whereas we don’t have that sort of parity right now with the credit card side,” said Sharp.

Congress is considering the Credit Card Competition Act, a bill that would give every merchant the choice of a second network to process transactions

Sharp said the association is neutral on Illinois’ grocery initiative because philosophically they have issues with giving taxpayer dollars to compete with the private sector.

“This plan is far from perfect. There’s a lot of our members who would have preferred no legislation, but this was the route the General Assembly chose to take and we can live with it,” said Sharp.

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Caleb Alexander

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