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As Swedish Bakery Nears Closure, Fans Pack Into Andersonville's Oldest Shop

By Josh McGhee | February 7, 2017 8:24am
 Even Chicago Blackhawks are visiting the Swedish Bakery, at 5348 N. Clark St., as it prepares to close.
Even Chicago Blackhawks are visiting the Swedish Bakery, at 5348 N. Clark St., as it prepares to close.
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DNAinfo/Josh McGhee

ANDERSONVILLE — When a Chicago staple like Swedish Bakery announces its closing, there's bound to be a line of locals saying their goodbyes — and there's no telling who might be in that line.

Monday afternoon, Jeanne Cohen walked into the packed bakery at 5348 N. Clark St., took a number, headed to the front to wait, where she ran into three Chicago Blackhawks, she said.

"They were the first Swedes I've seen in here," she said with a chuckle after meeting Dennis Rasmussen, Gustav Forsling and Jordin Tootoo.

After striking up a conversation with them because "they just looked real Swedish," Tootoo, of Canada, shared a photo of his family. Not to be outdone, the proud grandmother shared a photo of her granddaughter on the ice in her hockey uniform.

It was only then that the three revealed they were professional hockey players, visiting the bakery straight off the plane from an away game.

The Blackhawks roster sports four natives of Sweden, including Rasmussen and Forsling.

Since announcing the closure via Facebook last week, the bakery has seen an onslaught of new customers and goodbye visits from longtime customers, said co-owner Dennis Stanton.

"It's been nonstop," Stanton said, hustling to serve customers Monday. "We have a lot of longtime customers who are very sad and trying to stock up."

The bakery has seen about 500 customers daily since it announced that it would close for good at the end of the month.

The constant barrage of customers has forced the bakery to put limits on some items, like toast and cookies.

"People are nostalgic. People who used to shop here are seeing it as one last hurrah," Stanton said.

Dennis Stanton, owner of Swedish Bakery, 5348 N. Clark St., on Monday. [DNAinfo/Josh McGhee]

While Stanton said "everything is selling out," veterans of the bakery all have their eyes on one item in particular — princess cake, which is topped with marzipan.

"It wouldn't be a birthday without this cake," said Marianne Strokirk, who's been coming to the bakery at least once a year for her son's favorite cake. "He's 40 now, so I'm getting it for my grandson. It's a tradition: everyone in our family gets one."

For the Lincoln Park resident, the bakery's legacy has deep roots in her family.

"It's authentic. Not American Swedish, just pure Swedish," Strokirk said.

The bakery has been known as the last surviving Swedish bakery in Chicago for many years.

Stanton, who grew up in Andersonville, can remember when the area was home to about five bakeries. Now, its getting increasingly hard to find a "full-on bakery," as opposed to a specialty or pastry shops that simply carries Swedish goods in Chicago, he said.

"It's not a dying breed," but it appears to be headed that way, said Stanton. "Millennials shop different than their parents."

His parents purchased the bakery in 1979, becoming its sixth owner. While no one knows exactly when the bakery officially opened, its been open at least since 1929, said Stanton.

His mother learned the trade in Germany and worked in the bakery in the '70s. His father worked in the service industry at restaurants and hotels around Chicago, including the Edgewater Beach hotel, he said.

Now, the bakery is run by a host of family members, including Stanton's mother, who still puts in some hours. But its customer base has declined. Since 2007, it has seen a 20 percent drop in customers, he said.

"It shows the industry is changing like the rest of the neighborhood," Stanton said.

While the neighborhood has gone through dramatic changes in the last century, the Swedish Bakery has been one of its few constant fixtures. When it closes on Packzi Day (Feb. 28), it will give up its spot as the oldest business in the neighborhood.

Thybony Paint and Wallpaper, 5440 N. Clark St., has been open in the area since 1927, but has moved several times, according to the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce.

Erickson's Delicatessen was established in 1925, but closed in 2015.

Simon's Tavern, which opened at 5210 N. Clark St. in 1934, will be the oldest of the neighborhood businesses when Swedish Bakery leaves, according to the chamber.

"It's just getting increasingly difficult for small businesses to do business," said Stanton. "People's buying habits have changed. Convenience trumps quality most of the time."

Monday afternoon, Cohen fought patiently through the crowd to grab a number in the 90s and retreated to the front window to wait her turn. She knew Monday would be rough because of the closing, but learned long ago this spot held a rare key to her husband's heart.

"My husband isn't well and loves the marzipan [cake], so I'm waiting like a nice wife," said Cohen, a Lakeview resident. "I don't care for it, but he thinks it's hot stuff."

About 40 years ago, she would travel from the South Side to the Swedish Bakery with a friend, who was a caterer, because "no one else would get it," said Cohen, noting the changes in the neighborhood since her first visit from her spot at the front window.

"It used to be very Swedish. Now, it's a little bit of everything. It's a different neighborhood. It's nice not having everything as chains."

Through the window, she pointed out a Verizon Wireless store, and tried to find the words to explain what makes the bakery "such a sentimental place."

"It's just a real bakery," she said. "It's such a loss."

The veteran customers all had their eyes' on the marzipan topped cakes. [DNAinfo/Josh McGhee]