A mainstay on Madison Street in Oak Park for almost 30 years, Billy’s Fruit Market quietly closed for good about a month ago.
Signs recently popped up in the grocer’s windows, announcing that the owners were on vacation, and later that the store was undergoing renovations. But according to Bill Stotis, an attorney who has represented the owner for more than 20 years, Billy’s isn’t coming back.
The market got its start in 1984, when owner Peter Nikols; his father, Anastasios; and his brother-in-law, Billy Giannopoulos, first opened it, according to Stotis. Nikols, now the sole owner, did not return calls seeking comment, but his attorney speculated that the proprietor is probably “in a lot of pain.”
“People that have had a business that’s had to close don’t necessarily want to talk about it,” he said, later adding, “Peter’s a good, honest, hardworking man and he’s just a victim of a business that found it very difficult to compete in this kind of economy.”
Billy’s was increasingly getting squeezed out by competitors, Stotis said, and didn’t have the buying power to compete with the big chains. Nikols, an Elmwood Park resident, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy earlier this month, according to court records, listing almost $1.6 million in debts, including hundreds of thousands owed to distributors.
The one-story retail space at 400 Madison St. is owned by Nikols, Stotis said, and he will likely entertain offers from potential buyers. In his bankruptcy filing, Nikols lists the building’s value at about $500,000.
Dennis Marani, the president of the Madison Street Business Association, called Billy’s a “staple” on the east-west stretch. He frequently shopped there and had driven by the grocer often in recent weeks, hoping to see someone inside.
“Any individual who’s put so much time and effort into the street and been a staple for so many patrons for so long, it’s not fun to see anybody close for whatever reason,” Marani said.
John Ross, the chief property inspector for the village, said Billy’s never applied for permits to undergo renovations. Stotis was unsure whether the retailer ever planned to do the work.