Tilton gets grocery store for first time in years

TILTON — Tammy Watson has been waiting for the opening of the new Tilton County Market for a long time — close to nine years.

That's almost how long it has been since the Tilton resident has had a grocery store in her hometown.

"It will be so nice to drive 2 minutes to the store instead of having to drive all of the way to Danville," Watson said of the 39,000-square-foot store in the Southgate Plaza shopping center at 1628 Georgetown Road, open 24 hours. "It will be so convenient. If I need something in the middle of the night, I can just run up there."

Owned and operated by Covington Foods Inc. in Covington, Ind., the store is holding its grand opening Wednesday (today, June 13). Doors open at 10 a.m., but officials are expecting people to begin lining up much earlier.

"I think a lot of people are excited about this store opening," Tom Hast, marketing manager for Covington Foods, said Tuesday. "We've already had a number of people stop by. They want to pick up a cart and are ready to shop."

Last December, Covington Foods announced the company bought the Southgate Plaza and would renovate the long-vacant space and open a County Market. The company also owns and operates County Markets in the Towne Centre and Village Mall shopping centers in Danville and in Crawfordsville, Ind.

The space has been vacant since Eagle Food Centers Inc. filed for bankruptcy and closed the Eagle grocery store in September 2003.

Store manager Pat Calton said the renovation is a $7 million investment, and part of a $22-million-plus investment Covington Foods has made in Vermilion County over the last two decades. He added the store employs 80 to 90 full- and part-time employees.

"We've moved some people from our other stores, so there will be some familiar faces here. But we've created 50 to 60 new jobs," Calton said. He estimated the renovation created at least 100 temporary jobs.

Under the five-month-long renovation, workers gutted the building. They installed a new ceiling, floors, energy-efficient equipment, shelving and check lanes.

"Everything is new," Hast said.

The store features more than 25,000 items. Hast thinks people will enjoy the deli and drink area where they can buy breakfast, lunch and dinner to go or eat in the in-store cafe, which features two big-screen TVs and free WiFi.

In addition, the store has a floral and greeting card center, a meat section selling Tumble meats and fresh fish, an expanded frozen food section with 50-plus doors and a large beer and wine selection.

Tilton Mayor David Phillips expects the store will serve his village of 2,700 residents, as well as other parts of southern Vermilion County.

"We've had people from as far away as Sidell ask, 'When are you going to get another grocery store?'" said Phillips, who has been working on recruiting a grocery store since Eagle closed and the Aldi grocery store moved from Tilton to Danville. "Well, we've got one now. I just want people to patronize it and take care of it."

Phillips said County Market not only will be the anchor of the shopping center, which also houses Auto Zone, Family Dollar, the Green Jade restaurant and an Old National Bank location.

"It will be what draws other businesses down here. We have a Verizon store going into the old Gutterridge (Harley-Davidson) building, and an antique shop from Springfield is moving in behind them. That's all from the grocery store coming. I'd just like to thank the (Jeff) Clark family for doing business with Tilton and giving us an opportunity to have our own grocery store."

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