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Article updated: 2/13/2014 9:33 AM

Mt. Prospect demolishes part of historic building

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For those of a certain age who grew up in or around Mount Prospect, mere mention of the Meeske name is sure to evoke memories of trips to the corner grocery store, where the butcher knew your mom's name and probably knew, too, what she was going to make for dinner that night.

Few of those stores exist today, though in some suburban downtown areas, the brick-and-mortar relics of Anytown, USA, remain.

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Over the years

Some of the notable businesses in the Busse Building in Mount Prospect.

• 101-103 S. Main St.: Meeske's Market, 1950-1984; Central Continental Bakery, 1984-present

• 105 S. Main St.: Otto H. Landeck Men's Store, 1926; Meeske's Market, 1926-1950; Alanson's Men's and Boy's Wear, 1961-1974; Sakura Japanese Restaurant, 1979-present.

• 107 S. Main St.: Mount Prospect Post Office, 1926-1960; The Gift Box, 1960s-1970s; Mount Prospect Chamber of Commerce, present day.

• 113 S. Main St.: National Tea Company, 1926-1948; Mount Prospect Pastry Shop, 1948-1960; Schmid's Home Bakery, 1960s-1970s; Picket Fence Realty of Mount Prospect, present.

Source: Mount Prospect Historical Society

So it came with some sadness for Fred Meeske Jr., who worked at his father's grocery store and later helped run it, when he learned of the Sunday morning fire that tore through the downtown Mount Prospect building that once housed his family's business.

"You go back and start reliving some days there," said Meeske, 86, whose father opened Meeske's Market in 1926 in the same storefront where the fire is believed to have started.

On Wednesday, crews began demolishing a portion of the 89-year-old building at the corner of Main Street and Northwest Highway that sustained the most damage, though village officials are hopeful other parts of the building will be able to remain standing.

In a downtown district that has seen waves of new commercial construction, the Busse Building has stood out as a vestige of the past. And longtime residents say it was the building that had long been the anchor of the village's downtown.

"It's just a piece of history I hate to see go because that was the building that put the stamp on what downtown Mount Prospect was about," said Dick Johnson, who as a teenager worked at Alanson's Men's and Boy's Wear, the store that replaced Meeske's when the grocer moved to a new building next door.

That adjoining building, constructed in 1950, is now home to Central Continental Bakery, and sustained minor damage in the fire. So, too, did the offices of Picket Fence Realty, and both businesses might be able to reopen.

Sakura Japanese Restaurant, where it's believed the fire started, was a total loss, and the next-door offices of the Mount Prospect Chamber of Commerce were also severely damaged.

Some of the six apartments on the Busse Building's second floor also sustained serious damages.

Lisa DiChiera, director of advocacy for Landmarks Illinois, a historic preservation group, said she's hopeful much of the building can be saved.

"It's a lovely commercial building of its era," DiChiera said. "It's great that it was a building that up until the time of the fire was functioning and serving its purpose. ... This is a type of building we see commonly being lost in many suburban communities.

"There's been so much new development, (but) that's really a nice building that really shows the early commercial development of Mount Prospect."

Meeske's Market was the anchor tenant of the Busse Building, a Tudor-style brick building constructed in 1926 by William Busse, a Cook County commissioner and local businessman. It was built at the same time as a sister building that still stands across Main Street and is home to Ye Olde Town Inn, among other storefront businesses.

Other original tenants in Busse's building included the Otto H. Landeck Men's Shop, where shoppers could buy everything from shoes to shaving razors; the National Tea Company, a general store; and a post office, according to Lindsay Rice, executive director of the Mount Prospect Historical Society.

Rice said construction of the Busse Building came not even a decade after the town was incorporated, new businesses started popping up, and the population began to grow. Other stand-alone buildings had been in existence, but the Busse Building marked the first large building that could contain multiple storefronts.

"It was kind of an exciting time for Mount Prospect because things were happening. Things were building up," Rice said.

Leo Floros, a resident of Mount Prospect since 1959, said the stretch of Main Street between Northwest Highway and Busse Avenue was the cornerstone of the downtown area for many years.

"That was where you came, shopped, loitered and met with friends," he said.

Floros said he regularly shopped at Meeske's -- "a great old meat market," he called it -- and said the Gift Box, which used to occupy the storefront next door, was a favorite destination for him and his late wife, Lil.

"That was such a warm place, it was like that television show 'Cheers' -- where everybody knows your name," he said. "It would take my wife half a day just to buy a card there, because she'd spend so much time talking with folks."

Johnson, 65, who now lives in Oregon, worked for Alanson's as a stock boy and later salesman. The store catered to preteens, and stocked uniforms for parochial school students and Boy Scouts.

"It was kind of a mom-and-pop operation and really a great place," he said.

Meeske's was a destination for German immigrants, and in the early days, offered home delivery of groceries. But perhaps it's best remembered for its meat department, which Meeske, Jr. oversaw.

"We were known for our aged beef," he said. "To get a good steak, you got to have some age on it. That's what separated us from other stores."

Meeske, who lives at a retirement home in Hoffman Estates, still encounters people who remember his store, which he and his brother sold in 1973. The other owners kept the Meeske name until the store closed in 1984.

Three women who sat near Meeske at breakfast mentioned it after reading about it in the newspaper.

"They said, 'Oh, we used to come in your store a while back.' It's a small world," Meeske said. "The fire brought back those old memories."

• Daily Herald staff writer Matt Arado contributed to this report.

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