February 14th, 2020 5:01 PM
Farshid Der, of Chicago, shops for produce on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020, at Fair Share Finer Foods grocery store on Roosevelt Road in Oak Park, Ill. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer
Fair Share Finer Foods, a family-owned independent grocery store at 6226 Roosevelt Rd., will close its doors for good Feb. 24. For 44 years, the store has provided excellent customer service, beautiful cuts of meat and community service without ostentation.
"Of course, I'm sad. The people here, they've known me for years," said Joe Salamone, co-owner of Fair Share.
At 19 years old, Salamone and his brother Vito, then only 16, opened Fair Share in 1976 with the help of their parents.
"We've been here since then," Salamone said.
In 2003, the brothers opened a Chicago location at 6422 W. 63rd St. That store will continue operations.
The Salamone family emigrated to the United States in November 1966 from Sicily, Italy. Right away, Salamone started working at his cousin's grocery store, packing chickens on ice.
Upon opening their own store, he paid that kindness forward, hiring many neighborhood teens to stock shelves, bag groceries and check out customers.
"I gave jobs to how many thousands of kids over the years," Salamone said.
"Sometimes I walk down the street and I hear, 'Hey Joe! I used to work for you!"
With the rise of big box stores and national grocery chains, Fair Share in Oak Park saw its business dwindle with customers buying fewer items per trip.
"Overall our volume has been going down. But the expenses are the same, payroll is the same, taxes are the same, bills are the same," he said.
Fair Share became almost like a convenience store, where people could go and grab a few things as needed.
"We're a small store. Costco, Wal-Mart, whatever – people can go there and maybe they get better deals on paper towels, so the grocery business has shrunk for us."
As much as Salamone loved the people of Oak Park, conducting business in the village often posed difficulties for Fair Share.
"I'm going to be very frank, one of the major problems is that Oak Park is not business-friendly," he said.
Salamone felt that village government poured more resources into certain areas of Oak Park and neglected others.
"They sort of forget about the southside of the Eisenhower [Expressway]," he said.
Salamone saw the village refinish alleys in other areas, while the alley behind the store fell into poor condition.
"I had to call up the village to just fix my alley," he said.
A common and well-known burden, the store faced, high taxes also.
"The taxes are incredible. They're overwhelming," Salamone said.
Fair Share sits on the border of Oak Park, with the City of Berwyn on the opposite side of Roosevelt Road.
"I can tell you that if I was across the street, I probably would still be in business," Salamone said. "And I would have a liquor license."
The process of getting a liquor license in Oak Park required jumping through many hoops, so many that the Salamone brothers eventually just stopped trying.
A proud grandfather, Salamone has pictures of his 10 grandchildren all over his office. Their Crayola drawings hangs on the walls. The metal armoire is covered with the names and various height markers of each child, showing how they've grown.
A true family business, Salamone credits his family for the success the store has seen.
"Vito has been my partner since the beginning," he said.
Salamone's son Phillip also works at Fair Share and is an integral part of the operation.
Fair Share staff have also become like family to Salamone, especially Daisy LaBarbera, who takes care of many of the important administrative tasks, including payroll.
"We've been successful all these years with the help of Daisy LaBarbera. Nothing could have been done in this store without her," Salamone said. "I couldn't do it without her or my son Phillip."
Fair Share head butcher Benny Manzella is also like family. Manzella and the Salamone brothers grew up together in Sicily.
"I'm going to give you a good deal; I'm going to put it on Joe's tab," Manzella joked.
With the impending closure, the Salamones are doing what they can to take care of their staff.
"Most of them, we are bringing to the other store. I'm trying to get a lot of them different jobs somewhere else. A couple of them are going to go to a bakery that my sister owns," he said.
"They're trained in these jobs and they're very good. We're not going to put them on the street."
Fair Share has spread that same level of compassion to people all over Oak Park, contributing funds to block parties and BarrieFest, a yearly party in Barrie Park held by South East Oak Park Community Organization (SEOPCO).
"Joe was always willing," said Jim Kelly, former SEOPCO board member. "They've been very good neighbors."
Fair Share also gave two Washington Irving School students $500 scholarships yearly.
"I asked the school over here to come up with two kids that have a hard time at home and, in spite of that, they still do great in school," he said.
Salamone did that for a few years, up until the school stopped sending him the names of kids.
"Maybe they didn't have anybody that was in dire needs," he said.
What will replace Fair Share is as yet unknown, but potential buyers have shown interest in purchasing the property.
"We're getting some hits. I don't know if it's going to work out, but it looks good," Salamone said.
Melissa Elsmo, a chef and editor of the Journal's Oak Park Eats website, lives in southeast Oak Park, and went to Fair Share often for its specialty cuts of meats.
"Every year I make a huge cassoulet dinner and it requires some very unique cuts of meat. My very first stop was always Fair Share because I knew that I could get pork skin there, I knew I could get fresh ham hocks there," she said. "They're always of high quality and served with kindness."
Elsmo and her husband often frequent Fair Share throughout the week, picking up last minute ingredients.
"What was appealing about Fair Share to the southeast Oak Park community was the simple fact that it was available as a mainstay grocery store for a large swath of people," she said.
Elsmo believes the neighborhood will sorely miss Fair Share.
"I think people underestimate how much they frequented that grocery store," she said. "Next time someone forgets that onion or needs a really good porkchop, they're going to be sorry to see that it's gone."
Besides being a purveyor of groceries, Fair Share was also a purveyor of affability and goodwill.
"From the long-term employees working the register to the butcher behind the meat counter to neighbors you might see while shopping in the store," Elsmo said, "everything in Fair Share was always based in kindness."
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