Naperville Corner Grocery Stocks Plenty of Friendly Service

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Byline: Lorilyn Rackl Daily Herald Staff Writer

Bertha Mengedoth has seen a lot of changes during the past 40 years in Naperville.

One thing that's stayed the same, though, is her favorite place to shop for groceries - Kreger's Central Food Store.

A fixture in Naperville for more than a century, the tiny store at Ellsworth Street and Sixth Avenue has managed to survive in an era dominated by mega-stores like Cub Foods and Omni.

Kreger's is only as big as the produce section of some supermarkets, but it's able to offer customers something many of its larger counterparts cannot: friendly, personal service reminiscent of the good ol' days.

"It's a one-of-a-kind," said Bob Fox, who's worked at the store since 1982. "You see the customers and you recognize them right away. I worked at Jewel and A&P and you just don't get that same feeling there."

Kreger's is a place where the butcher will replicate your old family recipe for sausage, or cut you a steak as thick as you want from the hanging side of beef in the meat locker.

They'll deliver your groceries, offer you coffee and cater your party. If you come back more than a couple times, they'll greet you by name.

"I do almost all my shopping here," said Mengedoth, who lives across the street from the store. "I'm almost 90 and I don't get around so well anymore. If this closed down, I'd be lost. I'd probably have to move."

Have no fear, Bertha, because Bill Kreger says he doesn't intend to go anywhere.

The 36-year-old is the fourth generation of Kregers to run the store, which his great-grandfather, John, bought from a local businessman in 1893.

In 1926, the Kregers moved their shop from downtown Naperville to its current home near the Burlington train station.

"As long as business allows, we'll keep going," said Kreger, who's been working there half his life. He took over the store last year when his father, Jim, had a stroke.

With Naperville's transient nature and the growing number of supermarkets serving the area, it would be easy to imagine Kreger's going the way of the dinosaur by now, relegated to a page in the city's history books.

But this is a store that survived the Great Depression. So what harm can a few Jewels and Dominick'ses do?

"We have a lot of loyal customers," said Kreger, whose favorite form of advertising is word-of-mouth.

"As far as competing with the big stores, we don't try. It would be silly for us to think we could compete with them. We develop our own niche and do the best we can."

And Kreger's best is plenty good enough for Edie Weilemann, who lives just as close to the big-name supermarkets but still frequents Kreger's - sometimes as often as twice a day. …