Metro Sales owner started as stock boy 60 years ago
by BRIAN NADIG
From stock boy to manger to owner, Mike Valenti has been working at Metro Sales, 5416 W. Belmont Ave. for about 60 years.
That is until now, since the craft store, which opened in 1956, will be closing its doors in early 2019.
Competition from dollar stores and online shopping along with a changing neighborhood contributed to the decision to close the store, Valenti said.
"It was a combination of factors," he said. "And I’m 76, and I’m ready to retire. It was a great run."
As a 16-year-old employee at Metro, Valenti’s carpentry skills caught the attention of then-owners Angelo Terracina and George Sabatini. He used those skills to build new shelving and made other improvements inside the store.
Valenti, who grew up in the Montrose-Kimball area, continued to work at Metro while he was a junior in high school and a senior at the former DePaul University Academy and while he attended Wright College.
Valenti stopped working at Metro from 1963 to 1967 while he completed his college studies and took a job in sales at Campbell Soups. However, he was lured back to Metro when one of the owners saw him shopping in the store and asked him to become its manger.
"They paid more than Campbell," he said.
In 1978, Valenti and Pasquale Genova, who was a neighbor of one of the owners, purchased Metro.
"A $50,000 down payment (for the business)," he said, adding that Genova retired from Metro about 15 years ago.
While Metro offers thousands of arts and craft items for a variety of events, it specializes in baby shower and wedding supplies, Valenti said. "If you’re having a party for a 40-year-old birthday, we’re not (necessarily) the store to come to," he said.
Metro once had a warehouse at 3333 N. Knox Ave., and it would be filled each year with Christmas items, but sales of those items have all but disappeared at the store, Valenti said. He added that big department stores have become much more aggressive in marketing holiday supplies.
Currently Metro is having a going-out-of-business sale with 25 percent off all merchandise. Valenti expects that the store will close some time in February.
He said that he tried to sell the store but that the market for small businesses is not what it once was.
Also, until 10 years ago, Metro had a wholesale distribution business, but that stopped after its customers, "all the little guys," went out of business, Valenti said.