ROGERS PARK — Cobbler's, a shoe repair shop that has called Morse Avenue home for more than 90 years, has closed after owner John Geroulis fell ill and spent months in the hospital.
Geroulis said he had been $40,000 behind on his rent before getting sick 10 months ago.
The building's owner, Peter Kostopoulos, said Monday he wouldn't renew the store's expired lease until Geroulis pays what he owes.
"The store was my life," said Geroulis, who is hoping he can gather enough support to reopen the business. "The bad luck that happened to me — I think if I was well enough I would have worked it out some way with them."
Ben Woodard says Geroulis hopes to one day get back in business:
Geroulis, 73, said the recession took a toll on the shop's books. Then his wife died of pneumonia about three years ago, and the burden of the store's expenses became too great.
Geroulis' father opened the shop in 1921 under the "L" tracks. After his father died in 1979, Geroulis bought the old Morse Theatre building — where the Mayne Stage is now — and moved the business there. Finally, in 2004, he relocated to 1424 W. Morse Ave.
But 10 months ago, Geroulis fell ill and was hospitalized. A family member said Geroulis suffered infections that were at times life-threatening, according to his doctors.
Since then, he's been in and out of the hospital and a nursing home — and the shop hasn't opened its doors. In fact, Kostopoulos said, most of the store's merchandise has been donated to a thrift store to make way for a yet-to-be determined new tenant. The store's canopy and signs still remain.
"We have done nothing but try to help him, but we still have to run a business," Kostopoulos said. "John is still considered a very good friend. We always respected John in the utmost way. I feel really bad that he got sick and I wish him a fast recovery, and I hope his health is back 100 percent."
But Geroulis said he's feeling better and is able to walk around his home on Ashland Avenue, where he stays with his live-in caretaker Arbie Bowman.
"I feel bad for John," Bowman said. "I go get his medicine. I fix all of his dinners. I take him to church every Sunday when I can. It’s a shame."
Geroulis said he hopes to feel good enough to reopen the store in a couple of months.
If he can't work out a deal with Kostopoulos to stay in his current spot, he plans to move to the newly renovated Chicago Transit Authority storefront at 1400-02 W. Morse Ave. — the same storefront where Cobbler's began 93 years ago.
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