There can’t be progress without pain, but how much pain can Ed’s Way take? The grocery store is increasingly isolated by excavation along Harvard Street, and many of its parking spots have been stripped away. Ed Nutley and his son Mike say their store is hurting, but thanks to steadfast shoppers they’re surviving.
There’s been a grocery store at Harvard and Beloit since the 1920s. My neighbors and I still live the American dream from that era, taking easy walks to stock up on food. Plus, for people like me who are short on friends, trips to Ed’s Way are the social highlight of the day.
It’s been difficult, though, to negotiate the rubble to reach the store. Long-time customers miss the easy diagonal parking on Harvard and struggle to wheel their shopping carts across the torn up street. Ed has extended the store’s hours to accommodate them.
The construction has made 2009 the toughest in the 18 years that Ed and Mike have run the store. It hasn’t helped that Beloit Avenue is temporarily blocked in the mornings and afternoons to curtail school traffic. It’s a good safety measure for students but a killer for shoppers.
Business may be down a significant margin, but the Nutleys will do whatever it takes to keep the doors open. Construction is only one element of the triumvirate of trouble they face. There’s also the downturn in the economy, causing coupon-clipping customers to forgo steak for chicken.
Then there’s the ever-present competition from nearby mega-stores.
Ed’s Way simply can’t compete with these stores on prices. Big volume grocers can sell products like pop and milk at a loss to lure shoppers into the store. They also offer an astonishing array of products. Variety is not Ed’s Way’s strong suit – it’s quality and convenience that keep customers coming back. How many stores offer choice meat, with a butcher setting out fresh-cuts by the hour?
There’s also the sense of community at Ed’s Way that can’t be found in other stores. Customers exchange news at the checkout counter while neighborhood kids ring up their orders. Over the years, Ed’s Way has provided modest paychecks to hundreds of high schoolers.
When the dust finally settles, Ed’s Way will be down four parking spots. Still, the owners are glad the property on the south side of Harvard will be used as a park instead of for parking. When the north side of Harvard is torn up, though, the store will be further separated from its customers.
Ed and Mike hope to host something like an “Ed’s Way Fest” to reward shoppers at the end of the disruption. For the time being, the attitude of their loyal customer base can be summed up by a woman who told Mike, “I was going to go to Tony’s, but I think you need me more.”