Working Through Extreme Cold, Heat and More Without a Break in 11 Years
EDISON PARK — On frigid mornings like Tuesday, Mike Kaage comes to work with a game plan.
"Work" is the daily shift at his family's longtime Edison Park Kaage News Kiosk, which has been in operation since 1943 and where Kaage said he last took a day off on July 31, 2001.
His plan was to dress warm. Tuesday morning, well before the sun rose and temperatures hovered around zero, Kaage wore a T-shirt, UnderArmour shirt, turtleneck sweater, flannel shirt, two hooded sweatshirts, a winter coat and a pair of warm winter gloves.
He also had one of two kerosene lamps lit in the family's small work shed, where magazines, papers and supplies are kept, before he started selling the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times around 4 a.m.
He mostly stays in the shed and peers from a small window to look for customers.
"I hate winter," said Kaage, 56, who graduated from Taft High School and now lives in suburban Des Plaines. "By the time I get here, my fingers are going to be frozen, so at least I can thaw them out.
"Sometimes I wonder why I get up this early, but I need the money," he said.
His loyal customers truly appreciate the dedication.
"As I wrote on his Christmas card, he's the first good person I see every morning, and it makes my day," said Edison Park resident Tim Cullen, 58, who lives about a block from the Kaage kiosk at 6700 N. Northwest Hwy.
Added Edison Park's Ricky Fitzpatrick, a truck driver who bought a Tribune from Kaage Tuesday: "I think he's just a throwback to the old days. It's great that he's here every day."
Kaage (his last name rhymes with "soggy") sells about 300 newspapers a day — about a quarter of his peak total in 1988. About two-thirds of his customers, many of whom walk to the nearby Metra station, buy the Sun-Times, he said.
Kaage said it would take a stroke or heart attack to keep him from work. His last day off in 2001 came when his wife Karen "forced" him to go on a vacation to Washington, D.C., he said.
No weather — even the infamous blizzard of 2011 — has stopped Kaage.
"That was the only day ever since we opened the newsstand that we didn't take in any money, but we opened," Kaage stressed.
Edison Park Chamber of Commerce executive director Melissa Panizzi added: "He's there in rain, shine, even in the freezing cold. He is there every single day. He's a staple of our community."
Kaage is the third of four generations working at the newsstand. His grandfather, Irv Sr., opened the business in 1943. His father, Irv Jr., 84, still works there every day, though he arrives much later in the morning.
Kaage's son, Christopher, 24, has helped in the past, but now works elsewhere, as business has continued to slide.
"Even though business gets worse year after year, I've done this for so long," Mike Kaage said, "there's no way I could retire."