When she was 5 years old, Christine Darschewski started working at a grocery store that had been part of Glen Ellyn for more than a century.
“I would come down on Sundays to bag potatoes and onions,” said Darschewski, who’s now 45 and co-owns the store, McChesney & Miller Grocery and Market.
In 1975, at age 9, Darschewski remembers packing up the contents of the store in grocery carts and moving from Pennsylvania Avenue to the shop’s current location at 460 Crescent Blvd.
“We moved the supplies in grocery carts on the weekend... and reopened on Monday,” she said.
With origins dating back to 1892, McChesney & Miller was honored in 1984 by the Illinois State Historical Society as DuPage County's oldest grocery market. A plaque honoring the store can still be found on Main Street next to The Book Store.
Most recently, a proclamation was read at the village board meeting on April 9 recognizing the store’s 150th anniversary. The DuPage County Board also recognized the store on April 10.
“I hope my kids are standing (at a board meeting) in another 50 years — I’ll be in my 90s — celebrating the (200th anniversary),” Darschewski said.
Although the store has been around for more than a century, keeping it profitable has become more of a challenge. With some grocery chains open around the clock and others offering everything from clothes to groceries to home goods, the store faces more competition than it did in the past.
But one thing it offers that chains might not is a life-long relationship between many employees and customers.
Judy Fitzpatrick, a nine-year resident of Glen Ellyn, said she knew about the local grocer even before moving to town.
“The owner is so nice and the help is fabulous,” she said. “If they don’t have something, all you have to do is ask and they get it for you.”
The convenience of a smaller store is another reason Fitzpatrick chooses McChesney & Miller, along with its meat selection.
Several others said they shop at the store for specific items, such as chicken or bread, but the meat department seems to be many people’s favorite because of the variety and price.
Sandy Zeboski, who’s lived in Glen Ellyn for 12 years, said while she does the majority of her shopping at Target, she’s usually at McChesney & Miller picking up deli meat or other items that run out during the week.
“It’s convenient,” she said. “I can just stop by after work.”
In addition, Zeboski said one quality that separates the local store from chains such as Target is the customer service.
“When you need something at Target, you have to go and approach them,” she said. “The variety and service (is what makes McChesney & Miller different). They always make sure you have what you need.”
That level of service has been passed down through many generations of shop owners. Darschewski is a fourth-generation employee. Her mother, Sandy Behrmann, is the granddaughter of Oscar Miller, who joined forces with Joseph R. McChesney to start the grocery and meat market.
“It’s always been part of my life. It was over 100 years old when I born. It’s all I’ve ever known,” she said. “And my kids are the same way, they’ve known nothing different.”
Every day, including Sundays, Darschewski is in the shop working. She knows the name of almost everybody who shops there, although she said names are much harder to remember now that everyone uses credit cards.
“Before credit cards came around, people would write checks, and that’s how I knew their names,” she said. “It’s hard now because credit cards are quick and the name doesn’t come around as often.”
But even today, she considers regular customers family. Over the years, she’s watched parents and their children grow, just as they have watched hers.
“I have customers that remember when I got engaged, when I got married and had my first kid,” she said. “Now, he’s in college.”
But because times are changing and there are many options for grocery shopping, Darschewski said the store is starting to lose some older customers. In February, the store — which had traditionally only been open six days per week — started opening on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“Everybody has different lifestyles,” she said. “(Being open on Sundays) is going well, but not a lot of people know yet.”
With the hope of having the grocery store around for its 200th anniversary, Darschewski said she’s trying to keep her kids involved by having them work at the market when they’re home from college.
As the legacy of McChesney & Miller continues to grow, the store’s history is recorded on the business’ website. At the end of the story about the store’s history, it simply states, “More to come.”