NORWOOD PARK — For seven years, the building at Niagara Avenue and Northwest Highway was an empty husk, as residents of the far Northwest Side bemoaned the loss of another independent grocery store.
That all changed Tuesday with the official grand opening of Northwest Fresh Market at 6165 N. Northwest Highway in Norwood Park.
"The neighborhood was starving for it," said Jim Angelakos, who opened the store with his partner John Maranakos, who worked as a buyer for other grocery stores for 30 years. "We're just trying to bring good food to the community."
The store features a fully stocked produce section, a deli and a gelato bar, which store owners expect will be packed on hot and steamy summer days.
Maranakos' experience as a buyer will help him make sure the store's produce is as fresh as possible, Angelakos said.
"There's very little in the back room," Angelakos said.
Nearly 90 percent of the store's 40 employees are from Norwood Park, said Angelakos, who also lives in the neighborhood.
The store first opened about a month ago, and since then it has been experimenting with the right mix of more than 50,000 items, Angelakos said.
"We'll figure it out, and we're hoping our shoppers give us their feedback," Angelakos said.
Bea McDonough, of the Norwood Park Chamber of Commerce, said she was thrilled an empty storefront along Northwest Highway has been filled.
"It has been a long road," McDonough said.
At one time, the owner of the 17,000-square-foot building planned to tear it down and build a six-story condominium building.
Getting all of the necessary permits and licenses from the city for the grocery store was a nightmare, Angelakos said.
"It was a long, drawn-out process," Angelakos said. "We fought with them every day. It took forever."
Ald. Mary O'Connor (41st) said she was thrilled to have a new grocery store in Norwood Park. Her office is just down the street from the store.
"They're filling a real need in the community," O'Connor said. "This is going to be a thriving business district."
Mike Jettner, who owns Dish Dine and Drink next door, said the neighborhood has changed for the better in the 1-1/2 years since his restaurant opened.
"We want it to become a destination," Jettner said.
Across the street from Northwest Fresh Market, Iron Horse Ale House is preparing to open next month. The restaurant will feature a beer garden — the first in Norwood Park, McDonough said — and a brick pizza oven from Italy.
Business owners are also hoping a new tenant on the site of the former Norwood Park Auto Sales dealership at Harlem Avenue and Northwest Highway will draw shoppers to the area, Jettner said.
"Fingers crossed, it will be a Walgreens or a CVS," Jettner said.