May 22nd, 2020 7:51 AM
Updated: May. 26th, 2020 8:52 AM
John Roberts and Deborah Pieritz in Pieritz Bros. circa 2000. |Photo provided by Deborah Pieritz
After 125 years selling office supplies, the beloved family-run Pieritz Bros., 401 South Blvd., is closing up shop at the end of June.
"It was a really difficult decision. I had been thinking about it for the last decade just because of the climate for small, independent office supply retailors. It just wasn't real viable anymore as a business," said co-manager Deborah Pieritz "We kept it going just purely out of love and sentiment."
A true family business, Pieritz's grandfather, Robert Pieritz founded Pieritz Bros. in 1895 with his two brothers, Henry and Arthur. The original location was on the corner of Laramie Avenue and Lake Street.
Growing up, Pieritz and her sister played together there. They also helped keep the shop tidy, earning a nickel for every cabinet they cleaned out. "It was kind of a mysterious place with all this cool stuff," she said.
After 75 years at the first location, Pieritz Bros. moved to the corner of South Boulevard and Ridgeland Avenue in Oak Park.
Her father Alvin Pieritz ran the shop for many years. Her mother turned the shop over to Pieritz and her sister in 2005.
Pieritz has manned the helm ever since alongside her brother-in-law and co-manager, John Roberts, who started working at the family business in the 1980s.
While Pieritz Bros. sells standard supplies, it is far more than just a peddler of pens and file folders – It's an Oak Park institution.
The store also doubles as something of a quirky, walk-in time capsule filled with antique manual typewriters and vintage pens; Pieritz Bros. even sells bits of history, including typewriter ribbons and china markers.
As it currently exists, Pieritz Bros. is an earnest homage to yesteryears, completely devoid of the cheesiness that permeates nostalgia shops. And that makes it truly special.
With the rise of big box chains, business steadily decreased for Pieritz Bros. Now, most of the store's profits come from walk-in customers.
"It was a cool, funky place but in terms of an actual business that was supposed to support us, that was kind of waning," Pieritz said. "I've known that was happening for a long time. It was inevitable – and then the pandemic, that made it very clear."
The memory of Pieritz Bros. will be preserved through the Oak Park River Forest Museum. Executive Director Frank Lipo has already collected some Pieritz signage and one of the store's counters.
"He's taking a few key things, which I'm really happy about, so I think we're going to have a bit of a presence," Pieritz said.
The museum will also house many of the typewriters displayed in Pieritz Bros., as well as an antique pen case originally from the Oak Park Marshall Field's.
Pieritz finds saying goodbye to the store bittersweet.
"Making the decision was really, really difficult," she said.
However, once decided, Pieritz said it felt like a "weight just lifted off of" her.
"Part of me is sad," she said. "And this is going to sound weird, but I want to kind of enjoy it – giving out pieces, expanding the store on a different level."
The store has been a monumental part of Pieritz's life; the aftermath of its closure will, she said, "be sort of interesting," but exciting.
Pieritz herself is an artist and her brother-in-law is an inventor. Both will now have more time to dedicate to their individual creative pursuits.
"I always have all these outside projects, and so does John," she said. "It'll be different. I'm excited to work on other ideas, see how it's going to affect my art."
Roberts and Pieritz are working to develop an online platform to still involve Pieritz Bros. in local art, music, poetry and politics.
Many customers have expressed their sadness over the store's impending closure to Pieritz.
"People are sad, but for the most part people are very understanding of why it's happening," she said.
"I was worried that we were letting them all down, and we are, I'm sure, but it just doesn't make sense anymore."
Throughout its many years in business, Pieritz Bros. served many of Oak Park's most beloved residents, including Barbara Mullarkey, Wednesday Journal founding member and former columnist, and housing integration pioneer Bobbie Raymond.
Saying goodbye to its customers has made closing Pieritz Bros. even more difficult.
"We will miss them terribly. They were just very good to us," she said. "That's why it's been really hard to move on."
This story has been updated to correct a misspelling and to include plans from Roberts for a new, online iteration of Pieritz Bros.
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