Fair Share grocery closing after 44 years

Roosevelt Road grocery closing doors Feb. 24

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By Stacey Sheridan

Staff Reporter

Fair Share Finer Foods, a family-owned independent grocery store at 6226 Roosevelt Rd., will close its doors for good Feb. 24. For 44 years, the store has provided excellent customer service, beautiful cuts of meat and community service without ostentation.

"Of course, I'm sad. The people here, they've known me for years," said Joe Salamone, co-owner of Fair Share.

At 19 years old, Salamone and his brother Vito, then only 16, opened Fair Share in 1976 with the help of their parents.

"We've been here since then," Salamone said.

In 2003, the brothers opened a Chicago location at 6422 W. 63rd St. That store will continue operations.

The Salamone family emigrated to the United States in November 1966 from Sicily, Italy. Right away, Salamone started working at his cousin's grocery store, packing chickens on ice.

Upon opening their own store, he paid that kindness forward, hiring many neighborhood teens to stock shelves, bag groceries and check out customers.

"I gave jobs to how many thousands of kids over the years," Salamone said.
"Sometimes I walk down the street and I hear, 'Hey Joe! I used to work for you!"

With the rise of big box stores and national grocery chains, Fair Share in Oak Park saw its business dwindle with customers buying fewer items per trip.

"Overall our volume has been going down. But the expenses are the same, payroll is the same, taxes are the same, bills are the same," he said.

Fair Share became almost like a convenience store, where people could go and grab a few things as needed.

"We're a small store. Costco, Wal-Mart, whatever – people can go there and maybe they get better deals on paper towels, so the grocery business has shrunk for us."

As much as Salamone loved the people of Oak Park, conducting business in the village often posed difficulties for Fair Share.

"I'm going to be very frank, one of the major problems is that Oak Park is not business-friendly," he said.

Salamone felt that village government poured more resources into certain areas of Oak Park and neglected others.

"They sort of forget about the southside of the Eisenhower [Expressway]," he said.

Salamone saw the village refinish alleys in other areas, while the alley behind the store fell into poor condition. 

"I had to call up the village to just fix my alley," he said.

A common and well-known burden, the store faced, high taxes also.

"The taxes are incredible. They're overwhelming," Salamone said.

Fair Share sits on the border of Oak Park, with the City of Berwyn on the opposite side of Roosevelt Road.

 "I can tell you that if I was across the street, I probably would still be in business," Salamone said. "And I would have a liquor license."

The process of getting a liquor license in Oak Park required jumping through many hoops, so many that the Salamone brothers eventually just stopped trying.

A proud grandfather, Salamone has pictures of his 10 grandchildren all over his office. Their Crayola drawings hangs on the walls. The metal armoire is covered with the names and various height markers of each child, showing how they've grown.

A true family business, Salamone credits his family for the success the store has seen.

"Vito has been my partner since the beginning," he said.

Salamone's son Phillip also works at Fair Share and is an integral part of the operation.

Fair Share staff have also become like family to Salamone, especially Daisy LaBarbera, who takes care of many of the important administrative tasks, including payroll.

"We've been successful all these years with the help of Daisy LaBarbera. Nothing could have been done in this store without her," Salamone said. "I couldn't do it without her or my son Phillip."

Fair Share head butcher Benny Manzella is also like family. Manzella and the Salamone brothers grew up together in Sicily.

"I'm going to give you a good deal, I'm going to put it on Joe's tab," Manzella joked.

With the impending closure, the Salamones are doing what they can to take care of their staff.

"Most of them, we are bringing to the other store. I'm trying to get a lot of them different jobs somewhere else. A couple of them are going to go to a bakery that my sister owns," he said.

"They're trained in these jobs and they're very good. We're not going to put them on the street."

Fair Share has spread that same level of compassion to people all over Oak Park, contributing funds to block parties and BarrieFest, a yearly party in Barrie Park held by South East Oak Park Community Organization (SEOPCO).

"Joe was always willing," said Jim Kelly, former SEOPCO board member. "They've been very good neighbors."

Fair Share also gave two Washington Irving School students $500 scholarships each year.

"I asked the school over here to come up with two kids that have a hard time at home and, in spite of that, they still do great in school," he said.

Salamone did that for a few years, up until the school stopped sending him the names of kids.

"Maybe they didn't have anybody that was in dire needs," he said.

What will replace Fair Share is as yet unknown, but potential buyers have shown interest in purchasing the property.

"We're getting some hits. I don't know if it's going to work out, but it looks good," Salamone said.

Melissa Elsmo, a chef and editor of the Journal's Oak Park Eats website, lives in southeast Oak Park, and went to Fair Share often for its specialty cuts of meats.

"Every year I make a huge cassoulet dinner and it requires some very unique cuts of meat. My very first stop was always Fair Share because I knew that I could get pork skin there, I knew I could get fresh ham hocks there," she said. "They're always of high quality and served with kindness."

Elsmo and her husband often frequent Fair Share throughout the week, picking up last minute ingredients.

"What was appealing about Fair Share to the southeast Oak Park community was the simple fact that it was available as a mainstay grocery store for a large swath of people," she said.

Elsmo believes the neighborhood will sorely miss Fair Share.

"I think people underestimate how much they frequented that grocery store," she said.  "Next time someone forgets that onion or needs a really good porkchop, they're going to be sorry to see that it's gone."

Besides being a purveyor of groceries, Fair Share was also a purveyor of affability and goodwill.

"From the long-term employees working the register to the butcher behind the meat counter to neighbors you might see while shopping in the store," Elsmo said, "everything in Fair Share was always based in kindness."

 

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Reader Comments

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Mike Artz  

Posted: February 16th, 2020 3:02 PM

Sad day for the neighborhood. Oak Park could care less about a famiy-run business. The town's high taxes and lack of attention to the neighborhood's needs are all far too common in this ghetto state of Illinois.

Christopher Bell  

Posted: February 16th, 2020 1:46 PM

the other comment around liquir license is also insightful. I have said for a long time there are two Oak PArk. Those in the bubble get access, get info and favors, Those outside get screwed ... anyone who challenges gets put of bubble ... it is a core reason the school etc have seen decline ... we are too fragile or perhaps afraid of being exposed as BS

Christopher Bell  

Posted: February 16th, 2020 1:26 PM

The most insightful /underated comment "OP is not easy to do business with". OP in horrible to do business with ... in 2010 I tried to invest $1,000,000 in a sports facility at Foley Rice. For 4 months could not get a return phone call, then they said, $200,000 a year in taxes, 2 years to get zoning, must keep outside of building the same, etc. Went to Mayor of Berwyn and he was awesome, was builing 3 months later and Berwyn has made over $1MM all in over last 10 years. OP is far to comfortable with hemingway, etc. As my mom says all the time (in downers). OP aint what it used to be ... but the think they are actuallt better.

Deborah McKenna from Oak Park  

Posted: February 16th, 2020 12:43 AM

We've lived in this neighborhood for 32 years and Fair Share has always been our go to place for guacamole fixins, specialty items that aren't in the big stores, good deals on meat and the lucky lotto machine at the front of the store! We're really going to miss you -- you've been a cornerstone on Roosevelt. Always helpful, very friendly staff. Best wishes with your other store -- maybe we'll take a visit there one of these days. Blessings to all of you for happy healthy years to come.

Dana Newell from Oak Park  

Posted: February 15th, 2020 11:43 PM

So sorry to see u guys go, you guys are like family to my family ! We've shopped there for over 30 yrs, thank you for your service!

Nancy D'Alessio from Burr ridge  

Posted: February 15th, 2020 6:51 PM

The outpouring of kindness in these comments is overwhelming . You have no idea how heavy this is for Joe and Vito and their children who were raised and worked at fair share starting in selling the Sunday papers outside the door to running out their high school doors to get to work on Roosevelt road , me included . For them , i say, thank you for the positive energy you send today ; it will ease their heartache a bit .

Koehler Brenda  

Posted: February 15th, 2020 3:52 PM

So sorry to see it go went there many times for last minute things ?..Very sad :(

Pam Sopko from Oak Park  

Posted: February 15th, 2020 2:04 PM

I have been going to Fair Share since I moved to the area in the late 70's. Their friendliness and helpfulness beats any supermarket I have ever been to. The products, especially the meats were excellent but the workers/owners/family made the store such a delight. Rose and Peggy on the checkout lines, Phillip always a smile and a sincere interest in people's well-being, the meat manager with his special cuts and cooking advice, and Julie at the deli were always friendly and was willing to special order. These people and this store will be very much missed!! I wish you all well. Too bad we can't make the Village of Oak Park powers that be as kind and helpful as Fair Share people are! Oak Park would be much better run and a more pleasant place to live. Best of luck to all FS workers/family.

Elizabeth Titus Rexford  

Posted: February 15th, 2020 11:35 AM

This is sad news! I really loved their delivery service. I could go into the store and pick out what I wanted and then they would deliver my groceries right to my kitchen table! And I loved shopping in the store. They carried a number of items you can't get elsewhere. And, the prices were reasonable all around. Now, there will be a food desert there. I'm very sorry to hear this.

Jeana Salomone-Reisig  

Posted: February 15th, 2020 9:00 AM

Fair share has always been a great neighborhood store and we're sorry to see them go. Thanks for the years!

William Kunz from Oak Park  

Posted: February 15th, 2020 9:00 AM

Good riddance. The owner implied I was a thief because I didn't use a shopping cart. And when they go I fully expect them to take their ally rats with them.

Carla McLaughlin Nieto  

Posted: February 14th, 2020 11:15 PM

We are going yo miss Fair Share, it's so close to our home and we've frequented it since we've lived here - 23 years. When we need something for the next morning, my husband would always wait until the last minute to run out...15 minutes before 9. That's how close we are. We will miss having a store so close and all the nice people who have worked there for years. Always friendly. There will be many things that I will miss, but one thing I'll miss a lot is their potato salad. In a pinch, it was the closest to my mom's potato salad. I'd pick it up in the summer when grilling if I didn't want to make my own. Too bad another business is leaving Oak Park. #skyhightaxes #seopalwaysgetstheshaft

Carolyn Cullen  

Posted: February 14th, 2020 9:18 PM

Perhaps if people went to places like this instead of being sad that Peapod is stopping and then using Instacart instead, they would not be closing.

Fred Bernacchi from Batavia  

Posted: February 14th, 2020 9:06 PM

We moved out of Oak Park five years ago, but I still stop in a lot. The prices were often better than in the big stores. They had many Italian and Mexican specialties. The cashiers were always fun and personable, especially Rosa. I wish them all the best.

Joseph Picone from Oak Park  

Posted: February 14th, 2020 9:01 PM

This is so sad. My family is Italian. My dad loved shopping there. My sister still shops there. We will definitely miss it, but the supermarket landscape in Oak Park is certainly changing.

Denise Ledbetter from Westchester   

Posted: February 14th, 2020 9:00 PM

This is so sad to hear I still run there for the Italian beef in the deli it was delicious

Matt Nordquist from IslandDweller  

Posted: February 14th, 2020 7:30 PM

30 years I loved there. the [lst 15 years everytime I'm there I am grateful I live so close. I will surely miss all of it! So long Ms. Peggy and all the rest

Terry Stanton  

Posted: February 14th, 2020 7:23 PM

Our wonderful village, with its high taxes and many hoops for businesses to jump through chases out an irreplaceable family -owned store and community asset in a part of town that needs one. Meanwhile up on Madison, we are subsidizing a new supermarket

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