A complex and creative $1 million business plan will reload the Kroger store in the Southtowne Shopping Center with a new, full service grocery by April 2014.

Du Quoin Bottom Dollar Cost Plus Foods will be the largest among five groceries owned by Tom and Beverly Schmutz of Mount Vernon, who do business as Tom's Family Store and Bottom Dollar Cost Plus Foods.

The couple owns and operates Tom's Mad Pricer in West Frankfort, Ill., the Bottom Dollar Cost Plus store in Lebanon, Ill., Tom's Supermarket in Brighton, Ill. and Tom's Priced Right Foods in McLeansboro, Ill.

"People are ready for you to be here," said commissioner Yvonne Spencer as the couple was introduced to the city council and to television viewers Thursday. In fact, for hundreds of Du Quoin-area families it is a Christmas wish come true. Mayor Rex Duncan and other commissioners conveyed their deep appreciation.

The couple will lease the Kroger building and equipment from John Hunzeker, property manager for the Sunset Hills, Mo. based Lindbergh Watson Company. Those negotiations have been arduous, at best, and the signed lease was faxed to economic development director Jeff Ashauer less than two hours before the council meeting.

The company manages the Southtowne Shopping Center along Rt. 51 in Du Quoin. Until March of this year, that strip mall housed the Du Quoin Kroger store.

"I think I can say that Du Quoin will have a very nice Christmas," said Hunzeker.

Du Quoin Mayor Rex Duncan: "When Kroger left, we immediately began a search for a new grocer that would provide many of the same services, and I think we've succeeded. Tom and Beverly Schmutz are southern Illinoisans who have a proven track record of success in other communities with a solid business model that's built on strong customer service, great value, and innovation.

" Their Du Quoin store is going to provide us with some new and interesting wrinkles that will offer a great shopping experience. I couldn't be more pleased that Tom and Beverly are joining the Du Quoin business community.

"I'm also grateful for economic development director Jeff Ashauer's meticulous and painstaking work in making this happen. He's plowed through some tough issues to bring the Bottom Dollar grocery organization to Du Quoin. He's done so with smart professionalism. I know he dislikes being in the public eye, but that's too bad. He did a great job on this, he's still working it through, and he deserves recognition for his vital work!"

The Du Quoin city council Thursday approved an agreement placing in an escrow account for one year a $150,000 line of credit to wholesale food suppliers as a payment guarantee as part of the security for the plan.

Of that, $100,000 will come from the Coal Belt Champion Communities program and $50,000 from the City of Du Quoin revolving loan fund. These funds are not an expenditure, but are instead a guarantee.

The city will also co-sponsor a local bank loan in the amount of $130,000 which will be paid back from revenues from the newly created Du Quoin business district tax. The new district runs from East Franklin Street south and captures a one-half cent retail sales tax starting Jan. 1, 2014 for business redevelopment purposes. The tax revenues are a perfect fit for this project.

It will provide the capital for any interior and exterior modifications to the building as well as signage.

The bulk of the capital for the new store will come from a $650,000 Small Business Administration (SBA) loan provided through a large St. Louis bank.

Having all of these local agreements in place will substantially convey to the Small Business Administration that all parties, including Du Quoin, are serious about this project.

The Kroger store was one of two anchors in the Southtowne Shopping Center after construction in 1980. The original Walmart store was the other.

The Kroger Co. had been part of Du Quoin's business landscape for 99 years.

Since before World War II the City of Du Quoin and Kroger had been inseparable, a giant among the 18 neighborhood groceries the town once had.

Kroger employees were told in January that the store would close on or about March 23, 2013--and it did.

Some 60 employees were affected. Some transferred to other Kroger stores. Some retired. Others have gone back to school or found new careers.

"It is very rare for Kroger to close a store," said McGurk at the time.

The last Kroger store--one of five in Du Quoin's historic relationship--was opened in May 1980. Revco Pharmacy was next door.

The Revco space in recent years has housed the Best Brands Plus appliance store, which will close by year's end. It is the newspaper's understanding that a dollar store like Family Dollar is now interested in that space.

Walmart built its own nearby stand-alone super center in 1998. It's parking lot and the Southtowne Shopping Center are connected by an access road called Richard Fronek Way.

Tom and Beverly Schmutz have already marked their territory and say they appreciate the chance to be Du Quoin's grocery of choice. In return, they will offer unprecedented service and will be wholly involved in the community

They bring to the table a substantial track record, embrace innovation and have a huge sense of responsibility to serve their communities.

Their story line is about as good as it gets. Tom's father delivered milk in glass bottles for the Sealtest dairy, then Bordens. Tom still has a picture of himself as a child with a Sealtest bottle. The dairy's trademark Elsie the Cow was part of his childhood. When home delivery ceased he filled dairy cases in grocery stores for his dad. "It wasn't hard to make friends in the industry," he said. "Bev and I met about 27 or 28 years ago. She was the front end manager of a store in Mount Vernon. His career was exponential, working at the Country Fair Store in Carbondale, then quickly being recruited by Piggly Wiggly to manage six Tennessee stores, then 13 stores and he commanded the respect of the industry for his innovation. He has never understood why ANY company would call themselves Piggly Wiggly.

He trademarked the name "Bottom Dollar Cost Plus Foods" and sells groceries the way no one else does. He's part of a large "share group" which purchases national brands at the lowest possible price. The price you see on the item is the price he paid for it. At checkout, you pay what he paid--plus a flat 10 percent to cover the store's costs. No games. No smoke and mirrors. No second guessing. "We will bring this way of doing business to Du Quoin," he said. And, it works.

The store will be open seven days a week from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. offering full service, fresh produce three times a week, a fully staffed meat department seven days a week, "club packs" so local restaurants can buy locally instead of through food services, special orders, no self-checkouts bakery items, and things like rotisserie chicken, but no deli because of the overhead costs. "When Du Quoin shoppers have a special need we will fill it. We make decisions in our store. My office is my car with my cell phone and my iPad. When I go to work every day I go to work in our stores," he said, adding it will be a privilege to become part of Du Quoin.