Saturday was a sad day for Patricia Kolvek, a longtime Dominick's customer who stopped by the Schaumburg store at Meacham and Higgins roads one last time.
"I didn't come to shop, I came to say goodbye," said the Hoffman Estates resident who has frequented the store since Dominick's took it over from Byerly's 16 years ago.
"The staff were so friendly and helpful. I'm going to miss that," said Kolvek who wasn't the only one despondent about parent company Safeway's decision to shutter its 72 stores Saturday and exit the Chicago market, costing some 6,000 people their jobs.
"I'm sorry for them and for the community," said Kolvek. "It's a loss."
A few miles away, a couple of cans of pumpkin spice, some infant formula and several packages of flea and tick remedies were all that remained on two shelves at the Dominick's located at Roselle and Schaumburg roads in Schaumburg.
Saturday morning about a dozen employees took time from cleaning the nearly empty store to reminisce. Among them was Joe Campbell, a butcher, whose retirement after 38 years came six months earlier than he planned.
"It was a very good company to work for," said Cookie LaFata, a 20-year veteran clerk, who spent the last 18 months at the Town Square store.
"It was family-oriented in the beginning," said the Glen Ellyn resident, adding employees felt they were part of the family.
"This is my life," said Dori Havel, who worked nearly 32 years for the company founded by Italian immigrant Dominick Di Matteo, who opened his first store in Chicago in 1918, according to Dominick's website.
A self-described workaholic from Hanover Park, Havel did customer service, pricing, worked as a cashier and helped out in the floral department when asked. She was among the crew that closed the Hoffman Estates store two years ago.
Before he got the job at Dominick's, 17-year-old Michael Montello heard from friends horror stories about working in retail, most involving dealing with difficult customers. But Montello says he had the opposite experience.
"The customers are fantastic," said Montello, while his co-workers nodded in agreement.
Montello began working for Dominick's in April. His job at the Town Square store was the first for this Schaumburg resident and he hoped it would be one he could return to during high school and college breaks. So much for wishful thinking.
"I'm trying to take everything as a learning experience," said the teen, who is considering applying at Mariano's.
That store's parent company, Milwaukee-based Roundy's, purchased 11 Dominick's stores this month for $36 million. Among them are stores at 450 Half Day Road, in Buffalo Grove, 6655 Grand Ave., in Gurnee and 3025 E. New York St., Aurora. Roundy's intends to convert them to Mariano's next year. The parent company for Jewel purchased four Chicago stores.
Roundy's announced Dominick's in Buffalo Grove, Gurnee and Aurora are among those that will remain open until Jan. 25. On that day, Roundy's will take over the pharmacies and operate them in the closed stores in advance of the Mariano's conversion, which Roundy's officials estimate will take place 30 to 45 days after it takes full control of those stores on March 7.
Other Dominick's locations are still on the market and while there have been rumors of potential buyers, no deals have been announced.
The last few weeks have been depressing, said LaFata, who compared the experience to attending a funeral.
Fortunately, she says, co-workers helped keep each other's spirits up.
"We've made so many friends," said Kathy Loeding, a 27-year employee who started as a utility clerk and worked her way up to bookkeeper. "We became a family."
Leaving them is the hardest part, she says.
Daily Herald business writer Anna Kukec contributed to this report.