McChesney & Miller Grocery & Market will reach an impressive milestone this year by staying in business for 150 years.
Withstanding many changes, the store owes its success to continuing the family legacy by providing personalized customer service. During this rough economy, many grocery stores are vying for shoppers' dollars. To compete, Glen Ellyn's independent grocer relies on its customer base to come in for its highly-regarded meats and fishes, all while trying to find new ways to attract new clientele.
Changing With the Times
Rumors have been swirling that the oldest grocer in DuPage County might soon close. To survive in this sour economy Christine Darschewski, store manager and fourth-generation employee, said she takes it day-by-day. She and staff recently made some operational changes to try and dispell those closings rumors.
“Right now, it's a struggle,” she said. “We started opening on Sundays now because business has been slow. I have lots of customers who expressed to me that 'I would love it if you open on Sundays because I can't always get here during the week.' We're giving it a shot and [we'll] see what happens.”
McChesney & Miller's is not the only grocer in town. There are many other stores, most of them national chains mere miles from the downtown store; Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Aldi's, Valli Produce, Dominick's and Jewel.
“There's so much more that people can choose from now,” she explained. “Plus, with the economy now, everybody's looking for sales and a lot of people shop by sale only -- they have more options. We get customer traffic, and that's not the issue, but we can't compete with some of the sales, such as Jewel having a 10 items for $10, or 10 items for $1.”
Darschewski finds it hard to compete with those sales offered by big box stores, so she tries to set her store apart by offering specialty items such as Swedish bakery goods during Christmas, and fresh turkeys from an Illinois farm for Thanksgiving, in addition to gluten-free products.
But this isn't the first time the store has experienced change, or hardship, due to economic changes. Darschewski remembers when the store started accepting credit cards in the 1990s, and heard about personal checks before that.
And there was a time when McChesney & Miller's was among a few downtown grocers. During the 1970s and 1980s, A&P and Cee Bee's fought for the same customers. Those stores are no longer present, and McChesney and Miller won the war for downtown. Now the store competes with chains along Roosevelt Road by attracting the retirees, who reside in the downtown area.
“In downtown, we have a lot of the retirement buildings,” she said. “For a lot of the older generation who don't drive, they can walk here whereas if they go up to the Dominick's or Jewel, they have to rely on a taxi or going with family members.”
The store serves longtime, faithful customers like Cheryl Price of Wheaton, who remembers when her late mother, Malvina, began shopping there in the 1950s.
“It was a choice between a big box store and McChesney's and we just liked McChesney's,” Price said. “We wanted to go to a store where we could trust the quality.”
Price favors the store for its New York Strip steaks, ground round and specialty dairy items like Herkimer cheese. But most of all, she appreciates the attention she receives from the staff as soon as she walks in the door.
"They have a personal touch with their customers,” Price said. “Many of the employees have been there for years and some of them will recognize you and call you by name because they know you.”
150 Years of History
According to its website, the store's roots began in 1862 when Joseph McChesney recognized the need for the village to have a dry goods store. In 1913, Oscar Miller opened a meat market next to McChesney's store at 475 Main Street and in 1920, Charlie McChesney and Miller combined their businesses to form McChesney and Miller, Inc.
The McChesneys sold their shares to the Millers in 1954 and they continued with the business. The store then moved to 486 Pennsylvania Ave., the location of the defunct Schmid's Pharmacy, and stayed there from 1959 to 1975. It moved to its final and current location at 460 Crescent Boulevard in 1975. Linda and Kermit Ludwig and Sandy and Bill Behrmann oversaw the store during these years. In 2002, Bill and his daughters, Christine Darschewski and Jill Stack, bought the Ludwig's share of the company. Behrmann is the president and store owner and Christine and Jill are co-owners.
Darschewski's goal is to still work there for a few more years and wants to pass the baton to her kids one day.
“I would like the business to continue serving the community for many more years to come,” she said.