The General Store of Udina is closing after being a bastion of small-town heart the last eight years. Locals are mourning the loss of a convenience store where they could drop in, see neighbors and chat with the employees they knew on a first-name basis.
Owner Cindy Kamijima said it was a combination of factors that made her decide to close at the end of the month, an all-encompassing one being the economy.
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The store -- which opened in Udina, a hamlet just outside of Elgin, near Route 20 and Plank Road -- got much of its business from construction workers or landscapers on their way to and from jobs. With construction down and less landscaping work -- and the landscapers who did snowplowing in winter -- Kamijima's clientele dwindled.
Locals who used to enjoy stopping by the small log cabin convenience store started going to bigger chains nearby.
"I understand why people go to the bigger stores," Kamijima said. "Money is tight and they have to go where they can save money."
When the store was thriving, it pulled in an early coffee crowd by opening close to 3:30 a.m. and saw customers looking for barbecue pork sandwiches for lunch or other deli items. Some stopped in for cigarettes or beer on their way home from job sites. And all the regulars knew Kamijima or the three other employees by name, often staying to talk about their lives.
"It's not like a job here, it's like spending time with family," Kamijima said.
Myra Enzenbacher owns Heavenly Paws in Elgin and regularly stopped by the country store, talking through some major life events like connecting with unknown relatives in Cuba. She said she used to bring in her dog and Kamijima would have a waiting treat.
Jerry Turnquist lives nearby and has fond memories of summer days eating ice cream on the spacious front porch with his sons.
"It's a whole different experience -- the rustic feel," Turnquist said. "It's like you're someplace that really isn't surrounded by the environs of Elgin."
Kamijima plans to keep the store open until Feb. 29 and then is looking into substitute teaching for her next occupation.
Building owner Larry Christiansen said he is trying to find another business to rent the store space but nothing is confirmed.