LINCOLN PARK — The effect of two chain grocery stores opening within walking distance of Lincoln Park's The Market Place Foodstore has been devastating, but the business remains afloat, says the owner of the independent shop.
First it was Trader Joe's opening in 2011 a little more than a block west of The Market Place, 521 W. Diversey Pkwy., and then it was Walmart Neighborhood Market, which opened at 2844 N. Broadway Street.
"The saddest thing is when you have to let people go," said Peter Stellas, the owner and grandson of the store's founder. "We’ve let some people go who have been here 20, 30 years working for my family. It’s heartbreaking."
The Market Place Foodstore, which has been located in Lincoln Park since 1927, has been for sale for years for the right price, but customers don't have to fear a shut down, Stellas said.
Stellas, who has worked at the market since 1984, said the addition of the two stores "definitely hurt."
"The truth is, the store has been for sale for years on and off," he said. "We've always entertained that, if we can get a right price for it."
He wouldn't say what that price would be. But Stellas owns the 16,785 sq. ft. commercial building and the adjacent 12,840 sq. ft. parking lot.
Lincoln Park resident Armen Avetumyan said he hoped that Market Place will stay open. After walking out of the shop on Thursday, he said the store perhaps is not as crowded as it should be.
"Definitely it is good to have local places," he said. "There's a lot of competition. They'll maybe need to change their approach."
For the Market Place, the opening of both Trader Joes and Walmart has been a double-whammy from two ends of the grocery spectrum.
"You have one guy taking your gourmet stuff and the other guy taking your everyday items," Stellas said.
Stellas plan to stay in business — just like it always has been since his grandfather opened Shop & Save (the previous name) — is to provide customer service and fresh food that is unmatched at competing grocery stores.
"We can't compete with Walmart on price but we can compete because we have a fresh meat department," he said. "Ours are the only fresh butchered meats. We have prepared foods that are unlike any other store."
When Stellas' grandfather, Peter Stellas, opened Shop & Save in 1927, it was known for its exotic groceries. The elder Stellas, who died in 1998 was known to customers as "Mr. Pete" and his motto was "give people the best," according to a Tribune obituary. The business changed its name to The Market Place in 1986.
"Isn’t it a shame that you get some guys in here who come strictly on price," Stellas said. "They could actually jeopardize a long-time Chicago establishment. We’ve always been known as the top quality, the best you could possibly buy."
Pressure on grocers like Stellas is a nationwide phenomenon: a 2012 survey by the National Grocers Association found that independents named competition from supercenters and conventional supermarkets as their number one worry, followed by the cost of employee health insurance.
Customer Liz Kall lives two blocks away and has been shopping at Market Place ever since she moved to Lakeview 18 years ago. She's asked Stellas about the store's health, and since he told her that he's not worried yet, she's not worried yet either.
But if Market Place ends up leaving the neighborhood, she knows what she'll end up doing for groceries.
"I don't like the way Walmart does business," she said. "I'd probably go to Trader Joe's."