Who was it who said, “The more things change, the more they stay the same?”
OK, so maybe it was the French author Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, but it just as easily could have been Sue Wren, the new owner/old owner of the Chicago Park Store.
Twenty-five years ago, Wren and her older brother bought the old country store on Colfax Highway. When her brother passed away unexpectedly two years later, Wren — then in her mid-20s — sold the store to her sister, Karen Walker.
While a series of proprietors ran the business over the years, Walker held on to the property. A quarter of a century later, Wren is now buying back the property and the business, only this time with the help of her 19-year-old son, Eric.
“I have so many great memories here — and I still remember some of the families from so many years ago,” said Wren, who recently moved from Colfax to be near the store. “I’m doing this out of my own pocket — it’s a labor of love.”
While the immediate priority is deep cleaning and long-overdue repairs, Wren said she hopes to bring in fresh produce and add a food prep kitchen for deli items. But for now, family members and old high school friends from Nevada Union are showing up on weekends to help spruce up the beloved, aging building.
Word of a new owner has spread in the small community, and business has started to pick up, said Wren.
“I’ve gone from ordering three cases of beer and soda a week to 30,” she said with a smile. “I’ve always loved customer service. I hear a fair amount of local gossip, but I don’t share.”
Local school children have started bringing in their artwork for Wren to put on the wall, and a “gentlemen’s club” of retirees have started to meet at the store for coffee, fresh doughnuts and conversation every morning. Wren bought them a heater to huddle around if it got too cold out on the porch, where they like to feed the birds.
Chips, sundries, beer, ice cream, ice, wine — all the basic grocery store essentials are neatly stocked, in addition to Eric’s newest venture: a disc golf display. Not only are movies available to rent on DVD at the store, but there is still a surprising demand in Chicago Park for films on VHS, said Eric.
In the past, Wren has worked as an X-ray technician and spent several years studying to be a physical therapist. Unfortunately, when tuition costs and academic requirements increased, she found herself rethinking her professional future.
“This store has come at the right time,” she said. “Look outside — it’s beautiful here and there is a real sense of community. Everyone has been so supportive — it’s easy to show up for work. I also love seeing my son so involved.”
Tourists are charmed by the small store, said Wren. One traveler who posted on Yelp — which rates businesses online — seemed to do a good job of summing up the Chicago Park Store:
“It’s truly a piece of Americana gone by. I hope it’s always there.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4203.
Look outside — it’s beautiful here and there is a real sense of community. Everyone has been so supportive — it’s easy to show up for work.