City offers deal to grocery store

Lisa Depies

Geneseo could have a new grocery store by Nov. 1. At its June 9 meeting, the city council approved an incentive agreement with Country Market LLC of Milan.

Country Market officials are in the process of purchasing the former Jewel building on Route 6, said Rod Brown, chief financial officer for Country Market.

Council member agreed to a seven-year incentive package for Country Market. Geneseo will refund 100 percent of sales tax revenue to Country Market the first two years it’s in operation, and will follow that with a 50 percent refund for the remaining five years.

The total rebate could fall somewhere in the $300,000 range, said city administrator Teresa Savage.

Though the city will rebate sales tax funds, Country Market will be required to pay all utilities for the building, which is estimated to bring $14,000 a month in revenue to the city.

“There are merits to having that property occupied at the nearest possible date. The utility revenues would be significant,”?said Savage.

With a new grocery store in town, the city could potentially see a net loss in sales tax revenue from its other stores, said Savage.

“We’re getting nothing from (the former Jewel) property right now,” said alderman Curt Spensley. “Nothing’s coming in on that property, and it just deteriorates as it sits there.”

Alderman Kevin Peterson agreed, “We’ve got an empty building sitting there. Let’s fill it.”

The building has been empty since vacated by Jewel in May 2008. Since that time, Geneseo

Mayor Pat Eberhardt has been contacting grocery chains trying to convince them to open a store in Geneseo.

“We learned on March 31, 2008, that Jewel planned to close in May. On April 1, we’d sent out six letters to grocery stores,” said Eberhardt.

Initially the Quincy-based Niemann? Foods Inc., which owns the County Market chain, expressed interested in the site, said Eberhardt.

Niemann Foods remained interested in the site “until about November, when they bowed out,” said Eberhardt.

After deciding they were no longer interested in opening a Geneseo location, Niemann ?Foods CEO Rich Niemann Jr., contacted Country Market officials about the Geneseo site. “We owe him a debt of gratitude for that,” said Eberhardt.

Country Market owns stores in Aledo, Rock Island, Sterling and Rock Falls.

An incentive agreement had been reached between Country Market and the city of Rock Falls prior to that store opening, and Geneseo officials used that agreement as a basis for its own.

Brown said in most cases, Country Market has opened stores in former Eagle locations. Though it was most recently a Jewel grocery store, the Geneseo site previously also was an Eagle grocery store.

Eberhardt said Country?Market expects sales of $5 million a year in Geneseo. The Geneseo store would have between 40 and 50 employees and an annual payroll of $1.1 million.

“This is big,” said Geneseo Chamber of Commerce executive director Rhonda Ludwig. “We need this right now. Just as much as you felt it when Jewel left, you’ll feel it when a grocery store comes back in.”

Brown said the company would ask for licenses to sell both liquor and tobacco at the Geneseo store.

Alderman Karen West questioned if the store would be open on Sundays, and Brown said normal operating hours for Country Market stores are from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

Once the site has been purchased, Brown said work would need to be done at the store to “make it operational again as a grocery store.”

“We need to have roof, sprinkler and floor work done, as well as outside entryway restructuring,” he said. The company ideally would like to open by Nov. 1, adding the Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday season “is the best time for grocery stores.”

In addition to Country Market, a yet-unnamed small hardware store chain has expressed interest in sharing the facility.

“The hardware store is a good possibility to happen very soon,” said Eberhardt. The hardware store is considered a separate entity and is not subject to the sales tax agreement between Geneseo and Country Market.

The city council unanimously approved the incentive agreement with Country Market.

“This is a good situation,” said Spensley. “I don’t go a day without someone asking me when something’s going in the Jewel store.”