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Photos: Green Top Grocery Owners Get Sneak Peek Ahead of Opening

The first thing you notice when you walk in the new Green Top Grocery store in Bloomington is just now normal it looks.

There’s the macaroni and cheese. There’s the beer case. There are the paper towels, the deli, bags of charcoal, even insect repellent. There are the shopping carts and the checkout lanes.

But the Green Top co-op—five years in the making and finally opening Friday—is anything but normal. During a sneak peek Tuesday night for media and the co-op’s owners, the $3.6 million store’s focus on healthy, locally produced food was on full display. Many of its shelves will be stocked with local products (produced within 100 miles of Bloomington-Normal), including well-known brands like Ropp Jersey Cheese, Coffee Hound, Destihl, and PrairiErth Farms, to name a few.

Debbie Shelden of Bloomington bought into Green Top four years ago, becoming Owner No. 99. (There are now more than 1,530 local owners.)

“It is absolutely amazing,” Shelden told GLT at Tuesday’s sneak peek. “I’m so excited to be able to support our local farmers. I’m so excited to be able to bring good jobs to our community. The whole (Foundry) development is amazing. It’s good for Bloomington.”

The 6,600-square-foot store at 921 E. Washington St. employs 37 people. Its mission is to connect shoppers with local producers, while providing quality jobs and access and education about healthy, sustainable food, said General Manager Michael Pennington.

Food is a competitive business. Fresh Thyme, a natural food grocer owned by Meijer, recently opened in Bloomington. The Hy-Vee store opened just two years ago. Pennington says that Green Top’s mission will set it apart.

“We don’t have any private company that’s siphoning off profits,” he said. “These profits stay right here in the community. This store is not about making money. It’s about meeting a mission.”

As they wandered the aisles for the first time Tuesday, Green Top’s owners were eager to dispel some misconceptions about the new store.

No, you don’t have to be an owner to shop there. And yes, the store has more than just vegetables and tofu. The deli will serve fresh hot and cold meals, with seating on an upstairs mezzanine.

“It’s big, it’s bright. The high ceiling makes it feel really big in here,” said Roger Day of Bloomington, Owner No. 143 and a Green Top board member. “It’s an all-purpose grocery store. It’s not a place to just go buy your loose tea and ground coffee and go somewhere else to buy your chicken, or your produce, or your dairy. This is it.”

Of the total $3.6 million cost, about $1.5 million was funded by local owners. Another $1.5 million was funded by traditional bank loans, with the rest coming from equity from owners and grants.

Green Top’s location just east of downtown Bloomington puts it in a U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified food desert, where residents have limited access to affordable and nutritious foods. Green Top’s kitchen classroom will be used to educate residents on how to prepare healthy food—a major barrier to healthy eating, said Pennington.

“I can walk here, or bike here, pretty easily,” Shelden said. “I do my grocery shopping three or four times a week, so it will be absolutely wonderful to be able to do that in my neighborhood.”

Listen to more interviews with Green Top owners at Tuesday’s sneak peek:

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Ryan Denham is the content director for WGLT and WCBU.