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East St. Louis grocery store embraced by community in food desert

Evelyn Fluellen, manager of Neighbors' Market, helps Chestina Taylor, left, pick out meat at the East St. Louis grocery store on Dec. 18, 2018.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Evelyn Fluellen, manager of Neighbors' Market, helps Chestina Taylor, left, pick out meat at the East St. Louis grocery store on Tuesday morning.

The Neighbors' Market grocery store opened its doors in October, filling an unmet need in East St. Louis.

The full-service grocery store has fresh produce, healthy food options and ready-to-go, prepared meals like sandwiches, soups and salads. The market has even partnered with local businesses to sell their products.

“We have over nine African-American vendors that we let them sell their product here in the store,” said Sterling Moody, the co-owner of Neighbors’ Market. “We have Desserts out the Jar, [which] is pretty famous around here. We’re exclusive in the retail for her.”

Yashica McKinney is the owner and creator of Desserts out the Jar. 

Fresh meat is sliced and prepared daily in the back.

But before Neighbors' doors opened, easy access to healthy food and produce was slim to none. The store is in the middle of a food desert. Moody said the previous grocery store in that location had been closed for two years before he opened.

“The people needed a store,” Moody said. “And this is the only full-service grocery store on this side of the railroad tracks, so we’re excited about that.”

East St. Louis resident Annie Bell knows this all too well. She lives down the street from the grocery store. She said before it reopened, things were hard.

“[I] had to bum, thumb for a ride to get to a grocery store,” Bell said. “I’m 70, and I can’t walk too good. But I’m doing pretty good. From right there, I can come out the house and come right in the store, or either I call over here and asked them would they deliver.”

You can learn more about Sterling and how the store was built here.

Nathaniel Taylor said he drops by the store at least twice a week on his lunch break. He said the grocery store is a good thing.

“It means we have quality now,” Taylor said. “We can shop. Get snacks for the job.”

The store sits across the street from a MetroLink station at the corner of Bowman Avenue and North 15th Street. Before Neighbors’ Market, it was home to Eco Market for four months, but that store soon closed.

Moody has plans to open a second grocery store in East St. Louis in 2019.

“We have the funding in place, and people are now more excited because they actually see the finished product that we have here,” Moody said. “This store is 5,700 square feet. The store that we’re building is 23,000.”

Moody said he hopes his Neighbors’ Market groceries truly do become the neighborhood store.

Follow Marissanne on Twitter: @marissanne2011

Marissanne is the afternoon newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.