By Nona Tepper
The father-son owners of Ed's Way Food Mart have placed the institution on the market, after 28 years operating at 946 Beloit Ave.
"If somebody came in after us who would keep this place going, I'd love it. I'd even stay on until it got to the point where they're well established and I'd just go on my merry way," said Ed Nutley, 82, co-owner of the business with his son Mike. "I've been doing this, in the grocery business, probably since I've been 15. There's too many things I've been missing out on."
A price for Ed's Way is not listed on the Loopnet real estate listing site, and realtor David King declined to comment on the price the pair is seeking. King, of Forest Park, is the owner of the Oak Park-based David King & Associates real estate company, which is marketing the property.
"There's a couple of possibilities," King said of Ed's Way's future. "One, obviously, is another food store, it would just step in; two, a different type business occupying that building for a different use; and three, potentially it's a residential development site. Whether that means single-family homes, whether that means townhouses, whether that means three flats, the marketplace will dictate that."
King said he's already talked to "several parties" but the transition could take time.
"We could be here two more years, so we still need the neighbors' support while this is going on," said Mike Nutley, 62.
The Nutleys purchased 946 Beloit Ave. from the father-son Sarafino grocer team in April 1991, back when it was named White Way and had operated for 40 years in that space. This was the second grocery store the Nutleys had owned. They ran a store nearby called Westchester Finer Foods for about 10 years before purchasing Ed's Way. Before that, they managed now-shuttered A&P grocery stores. Ed saw an opening in the market, knew White Way's owner, and jumped at the chance to own a business in Forest Park, where he lived.
The Nutleys purchased an already established business. They said parents would drop their children off at Field-Stevenson Intermediate Elementary School every morning and then run over to the store to shop and chat. Every afternoon, another group of mothers would return with their kids in tow, meeting to talk about how the day went. The Nutleys considered naming the new business "The Meeting Place." They decided to go with the patriarch's name instead.
Over the years, the Nutleys watched as their teenage cashiers graduated from high school, went on to college and then returned to the store as mothers with kids of their own, coming back to Ed's Way for groceries and conversation. The Nutleys watched as adults aged and continued to shop independently at the store, able to navigate a 9,000-square-foot space more comfortably than a larger store, Ed said.
"If you go to the Jewel over there on Lake Street, if you need to go back and get something, you'd have to walk a block to get a loaf of bread and come back to the register. Over here, you're in and out," he said.
Mike remembers winters with snow piled so high that cars couldn't navigate the streets, and customers dragged their sleds to Ed's Way, shopping, then pulling their groceries home. During snowstorms, he remembers, hospital officials would come over to Ed's Way and buy out the store's stock of milk because their regular suppliers couldn't get through the snow.
The Nutleys credit the store's success to its down-home feel and involvement in the community. Almost every year, Ed's Way donates more than 100 turkeys to the Howard Mohr Community Center's food pantry for Thanksgiving. They also make donations to Forest Park's Little League teams and award a Field-Stevenson star-reader a free bike among other community investments.
"In those big chains you're just another number, but it's different here. It's a family type of store that everybody knows everyone [and] everybody matters," Ed said.
The two said they'd been kicking around the idea of selling the store for a few years. "He's 82, working over 40 hours a week; I'm 62 working over 80, there's your 'Aha' moment," Mike said.
Once the business is sold, the two plan to retire, with Ed saying he looks forward to spending more time with his grandchildren and "just being on a little pontoon boat with a fishing pole and a Bud Light." Mike says, "Maybe I'll get in a truck and see the country. Who knows? It's time for a change."