As employees passed out free samples of sushi, homemade breads and freshly squeezed fruit juices, giddy customers packed the aisles, searching for their favorite products and examining new ones – The Kinks' "Come Dancing" played lightly in the background.
Today was opening day for the long-awaited Pete's Fresh Market, which takes the place of the Dominick's grocery store that closed up shop in late 2013.
Doug Smith, an Oak Park resident who lives near Fenwick High School, tried a sample of the store's homemade juice. He tells Wednesday Journal he refused to come to the old Dominick's but will make it out to Pete's on a regular basis.
"This is great; I love this store now. I'm so happy this place is open," he said, before rushing off to check out the store's seafood counter.
Ken Taylor, a long-time Oak Park resident, said he lives in the neighborhood and can't remember a time when Pete's, located at 259 Lake St., wasn't a grocery store – except maybe for the almost two-year hiatus between today's opening and the Dominick's closure.
"I think it's absolutely spectacular," Taylor said of the new store. "This is going to be a great addition to the neighborhood."
Oak Park residents Alice Daniels and Cecelia Thornton stood near the check-out aisle exchanging notes on the grocery store.
Daniels said she was amazed at how different the new store was compared to the Dominick's. "I like that there's a lot of variety," she said. "I liked Dominick's, but this is better."
Thornton agreed, noting that Pete's has a more extensive selection of prepared and deli foods. "I'm a little overwhelmed at trying to find everything," she said, noting the breadth of the store's selection.
Daniels said the store's opening is "a lifesaver" because she can now walk to pick up groceries, rather than having to drive to a nearby Jewel-Osco. She said that once Dominick's went out of business, Jewel increased its prices because, she suspects, of the lack of competition.
"They're going to have to adjust their prices [if they want to compete]," she said.
Stephanie Dremonas, executive officer of Pete's, was found working alongside the store's hourly employees in the bakery department.
Dremonas said she's gotten nothing but positive feedback since the store opened its doors this morning at 7 a.m. – you better believe there was a line of people waiting to get in, she said.
"They're saying it was worth the wait, and they're happy that it's not an old Dominick's with a paintjob," she said. "They say it's a completely new store because it is."
Dremonas said she got little sleep the night before and showed up early this morning to get things working in the bakery, which puts out fresh goods daily. "I was a little anxious," she said of opening day of the Chicago-based chain's 12th store.
Dremonas noted that unlike other grocery stores, Pete's has a juice bar, donut cases full of pastries, a coffee shop and lunch café.
The lunch café even has a counter for local sweet-tooths with a taste for homemade gelato and sorbet.
"You can get your lunch here – pizza, sandwiches, sushi, salmon, brisket, ribs – all that's homemade and you can enjoy it in the café," she said.
Among the other offerings at the deli counter are barbecue tips, honey wings, potato wedges and cheese burger rolls, to name a few. Those on a health kick can check out the deli's salad bar.
And those stressed out about grocery shopping can pick up a little something to take the edge off.
"You can get a glass of wine and craft beer and walk around the store and enjoy it," she said.
Answer Book 2018
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