LINCOLN PARK — An independent Lincoln Park grocery store run by a local legend will soon shut its doors under the pressure of big box retailers moving into the neighborhood.
"Everybody said they don't shop at Wal-Mart, but when Wal-Mart opens and I lose 10, 15 percent of my business, obviously someone is shopping there," said Bruce Longanecker, owner of Lincoln Park Market. "The neighborhood is being saturated with food stores."
On Wednesday afternoon, a man in his late 20s with flip-flops on and grocery bags in his hands asked where the nearest Trader Joe's was after walking out of Lincoln Park Market, 2500 N. Clark St.
Longanecker, 61, said his store has become the fallback for the young Trader Joe's clientele who can't find everything they need at the store down the block.
"The come in here, they have their Trader Joe's bag, and they come in to buy what they can't get there," he said.
Longanecker and his store have become a neighborhood rallying point when national, or even international, disaster strikes.
It started in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast.
Longanecker's cousin asked if he would donate a few boxes of water, and when Bruce hung a sign in the store indicating the water was headed South as relief, the donations started flowing.
He sent six semitrailers full of food, water, cots, bedding and toys. Over the next four months, Longanecker made countless trips to Mississippi and gave away 500 turkeys for Thanksgiving, 1,000 toys for Christmas and put roofs on 12 houses.
When an earthquake rocked Haiti in 2010, neighborhood customers turned to Longanecker.
"My customers pushed me to do it. They said what are you going to do?" he said. "It was kind of this snowball effect."
For Haiti, he put together 500 emergency relief boxes that were taken right to a hospital.
Longanecker, who has been active in Lincoln Park's business community for decades, was given the Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce's Lifetime Achievement Award last week.
It was the first time the chamber had given out the award.
"He's the best example of a community leader that I could probably give to you," said Kim Schlif, president of the Lincoln Park chamber. "Nothing he does is self serving; everything is really geared toward the community."
Longanecker had previously served on the board of the chamber for six years and was instrumental in establishing the Clark Street Special Service Area.
"When we heard they were closing Lincoln Park Market, we knew we had to recognize Bruce in a very special way," Schlif said.
When Lincoln Park Market closes in "a couple months," Longanecker will spend his time running a contracted U.S. Postal Service store in a storefront next to the market that will be similar to a UPS store. He plans on opening that business June 3.
Longanecker now runs a U.S. Postal Service store inside the market, and it was named the third-largest contract station out of 1,300 in the country last year.
He said the landlord who owns the building is looking for a new tenant.
"The neighborhood is getting younger and younger," Longanecker said. "The older people always spend money. The younger people tend to shop at sales, and they don't buy as much."