When Eugene Gick moved to Lombard from his boyhood home in Forest Park, he made an unexpected discovery that connected his new home to the community in which he was raised. A washer and dryer had been left behind by the previous owner, said Gick, and the appliances were purchased from Trage Bros.
Gick, now 60, lived the early years of his life on the 700 block of Elgin in Forest Park. His father, Leo George, was a retired truck driver when he started working for the Trage family. In the early 1970s, George was hired to keep an eye on a warehouse used to store additional inventory, according to Gick.
When Gick married, he and his wife stocked the home with furnishings from Trage Bros. Decades later, some of the items in his bedroom can be traced to the Forest Park showroom. There’s a Panasonic turntable in the garage, said Gick, and he has a freezer from the store that will probably run forever.
“That was the place to go,” Gick said. “It was just the service; people were so friendly.”
Since 1943, Trage Bros. has operated in Forest Park, selling an array of electronics, furniture and appliances. In more recent years the family-owned business trimmed its inventory to focus exclusively on high-end appliances, televisions, grills and the like.
This summer, however, a series of bankruptcy filings, mortgage foreclosures and the awkward darkness that has seized the retail store at 7440 Madison indicate the Trage family business is no more.
“It’s a void that will be hard to fill,” Art Jones, a longtime family friend and former village resident, said. He described Trage family members as “strong leaders in the business community.”
Years ago, owners Ed Trage and his brother, John Trage, worked to establish a business group that proved pivotal in transforming Madison Street in Forest Park. Jones was a member of that organization as well. Ed Trage died several years ago but, alongside his wife, Judith Trage, the two served on the board of directors for the local chamber and as president of the organization.
Judith Trage, 70, remains a part owner of the business with her son, John T. Trage and continues to serve in the chamber of commerce. The company was started three generations ago with a small gas station at the corner of Hannah and Harrison streets.
“I was a loyal customer of Trage’s from the time I arrived in Forest Park in 1970 until the time I left,” said Jones, who serves as a member of the Forest Park National Bank board of directors.
Jones said he has known Judith Trage for almost 40 years, and the family was one of the first in Forest Park that he and his wife came to know. Now living in the Carolinas, Jones said he received a phone call recently from a fellow banker informing him of the appliance store’s apparent demise. He was in Forest Park earlier this month to attend a meeting of the bank board.
“As a family business, I would venture to say it’s the last of the longtime family-oriented businesses in town,” Jones said. “It’s a great loss to the community.”
Members of the Trage family did not respond to an interview request.
Laurie Kokenes has been a Trage customer since the age of 18 when she got her first apartment in Forest Park. Like other longtime customers, Kokenes’ purchases ran the gamut from furniture to mattresses to stereos and appliances. Only a few months ago, she said, she bought a television at the store.
Now, as the executive director of the chamber, Kokenes said she’s been working with the Trage family for years.
“My dad taught me the value of shopping locally, and when I need a product or service, nothing compares to being taken care of by people I’ve formed a long-term relationship with,” Kokenes said in an e-mail to the Review. “My relationship with the Trage family will continue as one of friendship.”