End of an icon: 136-year-old Zimmer Hardware in Palatine closes

Remembered for a certain charm that included its legendary basement and the kind of odds and ends typically not found at big retailers, a suburban hardware store has closed after 136 years in business.

Zimmer Hardware in downtown Palatine was the village's oldest continuous business until owner Nancy Martino was hit with a court-ordered eviction notice in March. Albert Zimmer founded the business in 1883.

Palatine Historical Society President Joe Petykowski, who's lived in the village since 1970, said it was difficult to see Zimmer close. The store reminded him of a simpler time and was a place where a one could envision shoppers there in the 1800s.

“I'm going the miss the narrow aisles with all the hardware items from floor to ceiling,” Petykowski said. “It seemed like the thing I needed most was always on the top shelf.

“I going to miss the squeak and the slam of the basement door, if you were lucky enough to go downstairs to look for that one-of-a-kind accessory for your house,” he said. “And every time you paid your electric bill, you always walked out with a package or two of light bulbs.”

Old-school remained Zimmer's trademark until the end. Customers could look at two obsolete gumball machines at the front entrance, then walk creaky floors to find seemingly every vacuum cleaner bag known to man as part of the scene at 16 N. Brockway St.

Palatine Councilman Brad Helms, 53, a lifelong village resident, grew up near Zimmer and started going there as a child with his grandfather. He went on to make trips to Zimmer for irrigation parts when he started his career at Palatine Hills Golf Course in the early 1980s.

Nancy Martino, owner of Zimmer Hardware in Palatine, looks up from the store's legendary basement in 2015. Zimmer's 136-year run ended in March after Martino was served with an eviction notice stemming from a foreclosure lawsuit. Daily Herald file photo, 2015

“So I'd have to go down in that basement, and they actually had a little door that led out onto the sidewalk from the basement, where we would have to shove the long pieces of pipe through,” said Helms, whose village council district includes the store. “Little things like that stick in your memory. But that basement was a very interesting place to go, going down those rickety stairs thinking they were going to cave because every single step, you could hear them.”

Zimmer founded his namesake hardware store at the corner of Bothwell and Slade streets in downtown Palatine. Not long after the debut, he moved to the Brockway Street building, where the store's streak of operating for 136 consecutive years began.

He lived with his family in an apartment above the hardware store. After Zimmer's death, his stepdaughter, Lydia Wienecke, and her nephew, Howard Freeman, operated the business until she died in 1958, according to the Palatine Historical Society.

Albert Zimmer and his wife, Sophie, right, sit in a Victorian parlor above the family's namesake hardware store on Brockway Street in downtown Palatine, most likely in the late 19th century, according to the village's historical society. The name of the woman on the left is unknown. Courtesy of Palatine Historical Society

Freeman family members continued to live above the hardware store and ran it until selling to Mike Lemonidis and Dick Brumm in 1972. Martino bought Zimmer from Brumm and Lemonidis in 1996.

Martino, who did not return messages seeking comment, received major kudos as owner in 2000 when Zimmer Hardware was named one of the “Retailers of the 20th Century” by the Illinois Retail Merchants Association.

Cook County court documents show Pan American Bank in Palatine lodged the foreclosure lawsuit against Martino in October 2015.

Martino was accused in the suit of not paying real estate taxes in 2013 and 2014, as required for her mortgages. She obtained a $250,000 mortgage in 2009 and another for $42,609 in 2013, according to court documents.

Her case eventually landed in Illinois Appellate Court after she challenged a Cook County judge's summary judgment that went against her. The three-judge panel unanimously upheld the judgment against Martino in an eight-page opinion issued in August.

Zimmer Hardware, shown here circa 1915 at 16 N. Brockway St., was the oldest continuing business in Palatine. The store was founded in 1883. Courtesy of Palatine Historical Society

In part, Justice David Ellis wrote that Pan American Bank “produced sufficient evidence to enable the court to conclude that no genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether Martino defaulted by failing to pay her property taxes, and Martino failed to produce any evidence to disabuse the court of that notion.”

As part of the foreclosure case, documents show a West Suburban Bank trust linked to Tony DeFilippis, owner of Pizza Bella on Northwest Highway in Palatine, paid back taxes totaling $45,553 and purchased the Zimmer Hardware building for $275,000 in a judicial sale that was confirmed in Cook County circuit court in August 2017.

DeFilippis, who could not be reached for comment, said in an affidavit filed in late December that Martino was not paying rent and it was believed she was living in the apartment above Zimmer Hardware.

An eviction affidavit was filed by the Cook County sheriff's office in late March. The action was ordered by Cook County circuit court.

  Zimmer Hardware in downtown Palatine closed after an eviction notice was served on owner Nancy Martino. At 136 years, Zimmer was the oldest continuous business in Palatine. Bob Susnjara/

Palatine Village Manager Reid Ottesen said officials have met DeFilippis, but it is not yet known what will happen with the Zimmer building. A couple of bright-green eviction notices are on what the historical society believes to be a late 19th-century structure, complete with a “NO TRESPASSING” warning.

“It really was part of the fabric and the institution of Palatine and specifically the downtown,” Ottesen said. “So it's always sad to see something like that go by the wayside. It's an unfortunate situation that it got to that.”

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