Grocery stores across Illinois are closing. Why?

(Illinois News Network) – In the past year, grocery stores in Clinton, Moline, Effingham, Kankakee and several Chicago suburbs have closed and two more in central Illinois are slated to close by the end of this month.

Two Kroger grocery stores are slated to close later this month, one in Decatur and another in Lincoln. Statements from Kroger corporate says the stores weren’t expected to return to profitability.

“Company leaders praised the stores’ associates, saying the closings are not a reflection on them or their work,” a statement from Kroger said. “The 76 members of the Kroger team in Lincoln have performed extremely well and have been committed to customer service in spite of the business challenges experienced by their store.”

A statement from Kroger about the Decatur closing said customers will still be able to shop, fill prescriptions and get fuel at two other locations in the central Illinois community.

“The HR team will strive to find other positions for the (95) store associates at the other Decatur Kroger stores,” the statement said.

Illinois Retail Merchants Association President Rob Karr said while each business is unique, there may be one commonality.

“No longer are companies willing to subsidize underperforming stores,” Karr said. “If stores aren’t meeting their targets, aren’t meeting what they need to meet the needs of the companies, then they are more likely to close them than to subsidize them with more profitable stores.”

Karr said people trending to eat out more could be another reason. But he said the grocery business lives on the narrowest margins where there’s very little room for error amid intense competition. But there’s another factor, he said.

“We can’t overlook the fact, and people tend to roll their eyes sometimes, but it’s real, the combined impact of local government and state government’s pressures on business also impacts them negatively,” Karr said.

State reports through the Illinois Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act indicate since July 2017, at least 17 grocery stores or food retailers have closed throughout the state, impacting around 1,660 employees and countless consumers.

Snap Kitchen, billed online as a “one stop healthy meal shop,” closed seven locations in Chicago in December 2017 affecting 76 employees.

Several months ago, multiple Sam’s Club stores closed in the Chicago suburbs: Wheeling with 138 employees, Streamwood with 191 employees, Matteson affecting 166 workers, Naperville with 170 employees, Batavia with 150 employees, Moline with 155 and Romeoville with 167.

In other parts of the state, Walmart in Clinton with 80 workers is set to close by the end of the month. Martin’s IGA in Effingham closed, affecting 275 in January 2018. Ultra Foods in Kankakee closed in September 2017 affecting 92 employees.

While more urban areas may have access to other grocery choices, things get more difficult in rural areas where the Rural Health Information Hub says “access to food may be limited by financial constraints or other factors, such as transportation challenges.”

“Rural shoppers may rely on more expensive and less nutritious options, such as those available at gas station convenience stores, or face a long drive to a town with a grocery store that stocks fresh produce, milk, eggs, and other staples,” it said.