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Sheffield community rallies to save only supermarket

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(The Center Square) – When Sheffield was at risk of losing its only supermarket, a community came together to keep fresh food within easy reach. Renovated for its August opening, the Royal Supermarket is now a place where the community not only shops, but bonds.

Elizabeth Pratt, executive director of Cornerstone Community Wellness, said the nonprofit decided to buy the store after hearing that John Winger was retiring and closing the store his family had run for 82 years.

While reevaluating its goals post-COVID-19, Cornerstone learned the supermarket was in jeopardy and reached out to Winger, beginning conversations that would lead to the purchase of the store.

“If the grocery store went away, it would be a lot harder to achieve health goals within the community,” Pratt told The Center Square.

This is particularly so for the vulnerable and aging population, Pratt said, explaining the nearest grocery would be 15 miles away.

“Really, we wanted to make fresh produce easily available to those who might not be able to leave town for whatever reason,” she said.

Community donations poured in, some $532,000, and they’re still counting.

“We’ve been really well received by the community,” she said.

Once the purchase price is fully met, a goal residents can monitor on the nonprofit’s website, Cornerstone anticipates that the store will run without subsidies. Some of the Royal Supermarket staff are on the job to take care of business, and new employees as well.

Almost as heartwarming as knowing the community is being well-fed is how the supermarket is bringing people together in the aisles for some neighborly association, Pratt said.

“It’s really nice to see a lot of familiar faces from the community,” Pratt said. “It’s also nice to see a lot of folks who we don’t know who live in small towns around us.”

Besides financial milestones, the store has overcome challenges in other ways.

“It was a challenge for me personally to try to learn retail and the grocery industry with a nursing background,” Pratt said, who thanks a team that included the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs.

“I tried to seek others who knew a lot more than me,” Pratt said. “That’s kind of the key to life, isn’t it?”

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