Produce Center closing after nearly 25 years in business on Northwest Side
by BRIAN NADIG
After nearly 25 years in business, the Produce Center at 5820 N. Milwaukee Ave. will close its doors for the last time on Friday, Dec. 20.
“Everyone is very sad. They want us to stay open,” said Spiro Karahalios, who operates the store along with his brothers Tom and Bill.
“They (customers) give us their phone number and e-mail and say we’ll go wherever you go” in hopes that the brothers will open a new store somewhere else, Karahalios said. “No plans now (except) spend a little time with the family.”
A plan to open the produce market on the site in 1995 was well-received in the community since many residents had opposed an earlier proposal to open a bingo hall in the same space. The space was once home to the Guitar Center.
A variety of factors led to the recent decision to close the longtime store.
“Our lease is up and putting the numbers together it didn’t make sense to renew and stay open,” Karahalios said. “The new generation shops online and has everything delivered.”
There also is a lot more brick-and-mortar competition now than there was when the Produce Center opened.
“Walmart decided to have groceries. Target decided to have groceries. CVS and Walgreens have groceries,” Karahalios said. “Mariano’s wasn’t in the neighborhood.”
The store issued the following message to its customers:
“The overwhelming response of our customer to the news of our closing is both humbling and greatly appreciated. It is our honor to know that we have pleased so many people over the years. We will forever cherish the memories we have made at the Produce Center, which have touched our lives in so many different ways.”
Part of the store’s success was its ability to fill special requests, including the cutting of meat a certain way or obtaining produce items that the store doesn’t usually carry, Karahalios said.
The store also tried to accommodate customers, “especially the ones we knew,” who would knock on the door after closing and wanted to buy one or two items, Karahalios said.
The brothers’ background in the restaurant business seemed to have played a role in the store’s popular meat department, Karahalios said. “We know the quality of the meat, and I’m glad people realized it,” he said.
In addition to their customers, the brothers said that they would miss their employees, some of who have worked at the store for more than 20 years. “We value your hard work year round. One foot of snow on the ground or 100-degree days did not stop you from coming to work,” they said in the statement.
Karahalios recalled how one evening the Produce Center was the only store open during a major snowstorm and that a customer thanked him “over and over” because she was able to purchase milk for her children. “Those days we weren’t open to make money, but to service customers like that,” he said.
Karahalios said that in many instances he watched families, including those of customers and employees, grow up. “I remember moms who were pregnant in the store and now their child comes in alone to buy.”
The store plans to be open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily through Dec. 20 in order to sell the remaining items on the shelves.