City works on strategy, possible incentive program to lure additional grocery store to Rochelle
‘Our staff and council want that added convenience and selection that our residents want’
ROCHELLE — In a community survey put out by the City of Rochelle back in 2020, the number-one resident desire was seeing an additional grocery store open in town.
Current options in Rochelle include Walmart, ALDI and Lupita Supermarket. Sullivan’s Foods off Illinois Route 38 closed in March 2018, which started to spur residents’ hopes for another grocery store. City staff has worked in recent years to help facilitate that, including considering offering incentives, reaching out to grocery store companies, and looking at sites that would lend themselves well to another grocery store due to location or tax increment financing eligibility.
“We've done some research on what other communities have done to attract grocery stores,” City Director of Community Engagement Jenny Thompson said. “Is it a financial incentive? Is it more marketing directly to grocery stores? Is it letting them know that we did a community survey back in 2020 and one of the most-requested things on the survey was that our residents want another grocery store? Residents have been loud and clear that that's what the desire is. So we've talked on our end about what we can do to make that happen."
City Manager Jeff Fiegenschuh stressed the importance of residents continuing to support Rochelle’s current grocery stores, along with what would need to happen for a potential fourth store to be successful.
“Businesses don't go out of business because people spend too much money there,” Fiegenschuh said. “When I met with Sullivan's when they closed, they said Rochelle was their lowest-performing store. I can't speak to why that is. The only way an additional grocery store in town would work is if it's supported. Any grocery store is only going to remain open if people shop there.”
City Community Development Director Michelle Pease has spent time reaching out to chain grocery stores big and small to get them to consider locating in Rochelle. She said companies look for property, underserved areas, potential incentives from local municipalities, and favorable demographics and spending trends.
“They have to be willing to pull the trigger and have the numbers to support what they're going to invest,” Pease said. “A company doesn't come to Rochelle unless they see the spending trends are going to support that business. They're looking for certain income levels."
Thompson and Fiegenschuh said they want residents to understand that it isn’t up to the city whether or not an additional grocery comes to town. All it can do is encourage companies to do so, and provide an economic environment conducive to successful investment and operation.
“I've seen some people say that the city won't let another grocery store come to town,” Thompson said. “That's completely false. We all live here too and do our shopping here. We want to be able to purchase just like everybody else does. Our staff and council want that added convenience and selection that our residents want.”
Fiegenschuh said “quite a bit” of city staff time has been spent on the issue. During the COVID-19 pandemic, staff shifted its focus to supporting and retaining businesses already in the city. Recent months and years since have seen a “renewed push” on the additional grocery store initiative, Fiegenschuh said.
“For us, it's about quality of life,” Fiegenschuh said. “And if our residents want to see more grocery options, that's our job to try to increase that quality of life for our residents.”
When asked about ideal locations for a potential additional grocery store, city officials mentioned the former Sullivan’s location, the May Mart shopping center, the vacant former site of Hickory Grove, and on the south side of Rochelle.
The former Sullivan's location and the May Mart shopping center are already built to suit a grocery store. The Hickory Grove site is still the subject of property acquisition work between the city, the Comfort Inn and the condo association next door. Fiegenschuh said a grocery store company did look at the vacant site, but was unable to fit its concept on the site without buying and demolishing additional property.
Pease and Fiegenschuh agreed that the south side of town, which has seen economic growth in current and new business developments recently, would make sense for an additional grocery store.
“I would love to see a grocery store in that southern corridor,” Pease said. “Because you have all those neighborhoods there that it would be so convenient for.”
Fiegenschuh commended staff for their work on the additional grocery store initiative.
“Just because you don't see something being built doesn't mean that there isn't a lot of work behind the scenes that takes place,” Fiegenschuh said. “When we did that survey, it was pretty loud and clear that our residents want to see additional grocery options.”