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Investigators: After years-long, county-wide food desert, Mississippi county finally gets own grocery store

Published: Apr. 15, 2021 at 10:48 PM CDT
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Editor’s note: This story was originally published April 5, 2021 at 7:34 PM CDT - Updated April 6 at 12:48 PM on www.wmcactionnews5.com)

QUITMAN COUNTY, Miss. (Great Health Divide) - A new grocery store opened in Quitman County, Mississippi. Jeffcoat’s Family Market offers fresh meat and produce at competitive prices.

The county’s only grocery store closed in 2017, leaving behind a 400 square-mile food desert.

The WMC Action News Five Investigators exposed Quitman County’s food desert early last year.

The Investigators have also covered the efforts that have been made since then to open a new store.

It took a lot of hard work finding a store operator and securing money for building repairs, as well as a lot of patience, including a pandemic-sized pause.

“I’ve had tears in my eyes all morning,” said Velma Wilson, Quitman County’s Director of Economic Development.

Wilson made opening a new grocery store her personal mission. She helped secure state funding, a USDA grant and found an operator willing to invest his own money and run the store.

“Just look at the activity, look at the store,” she said. “For the people to have a place to come and shop and not have to drive for 30 minutes one way is a blessing.”

Quitman County residents drove to neighboring Batesville or Clarksdale to grocery shop.

“It takes one minute to get here,” said Marks resident Letitia King. “I appreciate it so much. We need this store in town.”

Those who don’t have transportation or can’t drive paid someone to take them to the store or enlisted the help of family. That won’t be a problem anymore.

“I won’t have to go to Batesville or Clarksdale to get an onion. Right here. Best thing to ever happen,” said Quitman resident Ida McCray.

“It’s impressive. We came here for years when the other store was opened. We heard about this, we had no idea so we just had to check it out,” said Crenshaw Resident Abron McGloughlin.

The store opening is another beginning. After today, it needs to stay open.

“You know it’s going to be sustainable. I’m positive. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think so, " said James Jeffcoat, the store’s operator who runs a similar store in Tunica, Mississippi.

Jeffcoat had been looking for a second store location and started working with the Quitman County government to open up the store in Marks.

“I’m here to serve them. I’m here to take care of them better and anybody else,” he said. “And, of course, if I don’t do a really, really good job I don’t deserve their business.”

For those who shop local, their tax dollars will stay local.

“Wherever you’re spending your money is helping that community out,” said Jeffcoat.

“We certainly need to improve our roads in the city, our schools. It’s a great benefit overall,” said Wilson.

Memphis Mechanical Services installed the refrigeration in the building -- 40 employees have been hired locally to staff the store.

The store will be open Monday-Saturday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Great Health Divide is an initiative addressing health disparities in the Mississippi Delta and Appalachia funded in part by the Google News Initiative.

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