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Business

McChesney & Miller gets community farewell before closing

Glen Ellyn resident Joe Carlton wishes McChesney & Miller owner Bill Behrmann luck Friday. The store is closing Saturday after 152 years.
Glen Ellyn resident Joe Carlton wishes McChesney & Miller owner Bill Behrmann luck Friday. The store is closing Saturday after 152 years.

GLEN ELLYN – After 152 years, McChesney & Miller, the oldest grocery store in DuPage County and the oldest family-owned business in Illinois, is closing.

Saturday marks the end of the line for the longtime grocery store, located at 460 Crescent Blvd. On Friday, a group of nearly 70 community members came to the store to bid farewell and say "thank you" to owner Bill Behrmann.

Behrmann said he had no idea people would gather and stop by Friday and he was "overwhelmed" by the turnout.

The decision to close was a financial one. Behrmann said he was "bleeding money" and just couldn't afford to stay open. He said he was sad to be the one to close it.

"When time's up, it's up. We just couldn't keep up with the times, I guess," Behrmann said. "We had a great ride."

On Friday, those in attendance stood in line to sign a farewell message in a guest book or deliver a card and share a few words with Behrmann.

Iryl Tortorella, who organized the get-together, said she started off making a few calls to people who in turn called a few more.

"We just couldn't let this go by," she said.

During its tenure in Glen Ellyn, the McChesney & Miller store operated in four different locations, according to former Glen Ellyn Historical Society Board president Ruth Wright.

"It's a very rich history," she said.

Joseph R. McChesney started the business in 1862 as McChesney Grocery Store. At that time, the store was located on the west side of Main Street between Crescent Boulevard and Pennsylvania Avenue.

In 1878, it moved to the east side of Main Street, until 1959. After that, it went to 486 Pennsylvania Ave., until 1975, at which point the store relocated to its existing site.

Early on, the McChesney Grocery Store did not sell meat products the entire year.

"They didn't sell meat until the winter time," Wright said.

In 1913, Oscar Miller came on with McChesney as the grocery's first full-time butcher. The store changed its name in 1920. In 1953, the Miller family bought out the McChesneys, but kept the name. Henry Miller – Oscar's son – ran the business until his death, and Behrmann and Kermit Ludwig – Henry Miller's sons-in-law – took over from there.

Glen Ellyn Chamber of Commerce President Mike Formento said McChesney & Miller's closing is a "traumatic loss" for Glen Ellyn.

"As you can see, they have been tremendously important to this community," Formento said, referring to the number of people in the store Friday. "They will be sorely missed in our community. Not only the business, but also the family."

Formento said there is no way to replace McChesney & Miller, but hopes whoever takes its site will support the community and be there a long time.

Wheaton-based developer Next Generation LLC has presented preliminary plans for a six-story apartment complex that could be built on the property, but the plans are in the early stages and nothing definitive has been set.

McChesney & Miller tried to help out its neighbors whenever it could. During the 1930s, the middle of the Great Depression, the store stayed open and often let customers start a tab, Wright said. Years later, many of those tabs were forgiven.

In the 1940s and '50s, the store ran a delivery service that took groceries to elderly people who may not have been able to get to the store.

"It appears the McChesneys were very civic-minded people and the families did a lot of things for the community," Wright said.

Glen Ellyn resident Susan Clark said the employees were kind to everyone who came in.

After she got her driver's license, Clark went to McChesney & Miller by herself to pick up groceries for the first time. As she left, one of the butchers called Clark's mother to let her know her daughter had gotten to the store safely and was on her way home.

"Everyone who shopped here, it was like family," she said.

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McChesney & Miller: A history

1862 - Joseph R. McChesney begins McChesney Grocery Store on Main Street between Crescent Boulevard and Pennsylvania Avenue.

1878 - The store moves to the other side of Main Street.

1913 - McChesney brings on Oscar Miller as a full-time butcher and opens a year-round meat department.

1920 - The name of the store is officially changed to McChesney & Miller.

1953 - The Miller family buys out the McChenseys.

1959 - McChesney & Miller moves to 486 Pennsylvania Ave.

1975 - McChesney & Miller moves to its final location at 460 Crescent Blvd.

2014 - After 152 years in business, McChesney & Miller closes.

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