Re: Corner Grocery Stores
Date: December 24, 2011 03:31PM
I posted this info awhile back on a different site but thought that it would fit nicely into this thread.
I felt like starting a thread to document the old neighborhood stores of North Berwyn. I wanted to concentrate on the smaller "inner neighborhood" stores and not ones on the main drags like Roosevelt Rd., Cermak, Harlem, or 16th St. This thread is for the small mom & pop stores where the owner commonly lived above or behind their business. The "corner store" was an institution in old neighborhoods like North Berwyn from Roosevelt Rd. to 16th St.. There were a couple dozen within the community from the days before refrigeration, large grocery store chains, and shopping malls. The proprietors of these businesses intimately knew their customers and what they purchased. Back before cars it wasn't really necessary for you to leave your little neighborhood when everything you needed was right there. Many of these stores operated uninterrupted for decades. By the 1960s and 1970s most of the stores became obsolete and the fronts were bricked over and the interiors turned into rental apartments or additional living space for the owners. Times change and the origins of these unique pieces of our neighborhoods history have mostly been lost to history.
To understand why these stores were there you would need to know a little about "North Berwyn" or "South Oak Park" from Harlem to Lombard and 12th to 16th St's. This part of our city was situated between the Village of Oak Park and the vast open prairie from 16th St. to 31st St., with the exception of a small neighborhood in the vicinity of 26th & Ridgeland Ave. (Single houses also dotted the open prairie in between). For the most part Oak Park really didn't want anything to do with the area commonly known as "South Oak Park." The area was mostly undeveloped with no schools, very rough streets, and immigrants. South Oak Park was the first area in Berwyn to experience an influx of Bohemian immigrants right at the turn of the 20th century. The Bohemians as we knew them in Berwyn didn't arrive in significant numbers until around World War I, but North Berwyn was already populated with an older group that settled in the area which for all intents and purposes was "the sticks." The first homes in the area were built around 12th St. & Oak Park Ave., mostly on the 1200, 1300, & 1400 blocks of Clarence, Wesley, Oak Park Ave., Grove, Kenilworth, Clinton, Home, & Wenonah. Many of these blocks had just 3-5 homes on the block or small clusters of homes and then open overgrown prairie. Because of the lack of building codes the first homes began springing up circa 1892 and among them were the small neighborhood stores. Due to the remote location of the area, South Oak Park needed to be self sufficient. South Oak Park became part of Berwyn when Berwyn was officially recognized as a city by the state of Illinois in 1908.
I could go on about North Berwyn history but I will just stick to the small stores for now. Here are some that I can think of off the top of my head from living in that immediate area for 21 years and studying it for many years after. For now I will just stick with the stores from Maple to East Ave. I know there were some east of East Ave., but maybe I will look into those later. I would have to search because I am not as familiar with every store in that area like I am the area west of East Ave. This is going to be a long winded post but to my knowledge this info has never been compiled by anyone researching Berwyn's history. It may help some researcher in the future.