Kreger's Central Foods was part of Bill Kreger's life from the moment he was born.
His great-grandfather opened the fresh meats and deli business in Naperville in 1893. As a boy, Kreger spent countless hours in the store cutting sausages, sweeping the floors, stocking food. After graduating from Naperville North High School in 1978, he started working there full-time.
On Saturday, Kreger closed the doors of the family business for good, ending its long and successful run.
"You know, it's just time for me to do something new," Kreger said Sunday. "After 34 years, I'm looking for a change."
Kreger's Central Foods, which moved to its Ellsworth Street location in 1926, was a true neighborhood business, sitting in a residential part of Naperville near downtown. Famous for its bratwurst, the store brought customers back week in and week out.
"That's how it used to be -- every neighborhood would have its store," Kreger said. "The location was good because it helped us really get to know customers, but it could be tough, too, because we were a little off the main drag."
When word started to get around that Kreger was closing the store, customers flooded in to make one last purchase and tell Kreger how much they would miss the store. Kreger said the experience made him feel like the main character in the beloved holiday film "It's a Wonderful Life."
"It was so touching," Kreger said. "We did a month's worth of business in two weeks, and everyone was telling us how sad they were, how much they loved the place. I felt like George Bailey."
Kreger said that while "business could have been better" overall, the store was doing fine -- he didn't close it for economic reasons. He hopes Naperville residents will continue to support other small locally-owned businesses in town.
"Small businesses are the heart of a community," he said. "I'm so grateful to those who supported ours all these years."
Looking ahead, Kreger, 52, said he plans to do some traveling and then decide on a new career path. Closing the store wasn't an easy decision to make, but he said he's excited about what lies ahead.
"I feel very happy right now," he said. "It's liberating to look forward to a brand new chapter."