PULASKI, Ill. — The Pulaski General Store here is probably
one of the few grocery stores in Illinois that is the result of an
Pulaski County farmer Jerry Thurston has a heavily
diversified operation. He produces crops, vegetables and livestock on 1,800
acres. But he never intended to own a grocery store.
“Yeah, we accidentally got a grocery store,” he said with a
laugh recently while taking a break at the store.
Thurston grows corn and soybeans, but also has a sizeable
vegetable operation. He supplies a number of supermarkets in the St. Louis-based
But the closing of the only grocery store in the town of
fewer than 300 residents provided an unexpected opportunity.
The couple who operated the store for years passed away a
short time from one another, leaving the building in the hands of an
out-of-state relative. The store closed, and Thurston was contacted about
purchasing the building.
He got it for a song and used it as a market where he sold
vegetables, eggs and meat from his farm. It was open only on Saturdays.
Another grocery had been established across the street. That
enterprise, however, went out of business due to financial problems.
“Suddenly we had people coming in looking for milk, meat,
bread and everything,” Thurston said. “Over a matter of a few weeks, we slowly
transformed it back into a grocery store. We had no intentions of it being a
grocery store. Normally, we’d close in October and reopen in the spring. It was
The building still had a fully functional walk-in cooler and
shelves and was in sound physical condition. Thurston embarked on a remodeling
project and started working with wholesalers. The revamped grocery opened in
Thurston’s farm-fresh goods still are available there. He
has fresh vegetables in season, as well as farm-raised eggs, beef, pork, lamb
and goat meat throughout the year.
“We still have to buy a lot of meats and commercial eggs,
but we have our farm-fresh eggs,” he said. “The beef, lamb and goat is off our
farm. The pork is processed, and most of it is brought in fresh. We also have a
frozen case with bacon and hams. Beef has been hard to keep up with because we
only have about 20 cows.”
Thurston and his father — also named Jerry — share farming
duties, though the vegetable operation is solely the domain of the younger
He also has a 12-acre vineyard, with 10 acres in production.
Most of his grape harvest goes to Blue Sky Winery in Makanda, though he also
ships to a number of other wineries.
He grows vegetables on 30 acres, and gets the most out of
“A lot of those are double-crop acres,” Thurston said. “We
raise cabbage in the spring and follow it with squash in the fall, or sweet
corn, followed by cucumbers — something like that.”
The vegetable operation also includes five high-tunnels,
where tomatoes and some green peppers are grown in the clear plastic-sheathed
frames in order to move up harvest. Most years he is able to pick ripe tomatoes
three to four weeks earlier than conventionally grown produce.
The soils on the certified centennial farm are ideal for
fruit and vegetable production.
“We have the Cache River, which is a cypress slough,”
Thurston said. “It’s almost perfect vegetable ground.”
He purchased a nearby farm marked by rolling hills where he
raises livestock, grapes and poultry.