Frank Svoboda Jr. emphasized customer service, promotion of downtown Des Plaines

By Eileen O. Daday
Daily Herald correspondent
Updated 6/15/2017 5:10 PM
  • Frank Svoboda Jr. and Frank Svoboda Sr. celebrate more than 50 years of community service and business in Des Plaines in 1984.

    Frank Svoboda Jr. and Frank Svoboda Sr. celebrate more than 50 years of community service and business in Des Plaines in 1984. Courtesy of Paul Svoboda

  • Frank Svoboda Jr.

    Frank Svoboda Jr.

The namesake behind an iconic menswear store in Des Plaines, which clothed everyone from farmers and local residents to elected officials in the city, has died.

Frank A. Svoboda Jr. passed away Saturday. The former Des Plaines resident, most recently of Barrington Hills, was 83.

It was his grandfather, Frank J. Svoboda, who opened Svoboda Men's Wear in 1922. He was a tailor by profession, having worked in Chicago's Logan Square neighborhood before moving out to the suburbs to open his own store.

He ran the business with his two sons, Frank A. Svoboda Sr. and Joseph Svoboda, until the 1950s, when the latter opened a second Svoboda's in downtown Arlington Heights.

"The two stores were operated separately, but both had the same legacy and had the same upscale brands," says Paul Svoboda, one of Frank Svoboda Jr.'s five children who worked at the Des Plaines store while growing up.

"It was a customer-based business, where customer service was paramount," he added. "People came to the store because they knew they were going to be treated well, and there was a tailor on the premises."

Frank A. Svoboda Jr. joined his father in the Des Plaines store after graduating from college in 1955 and serving two years in the Air Force. The postwar years were booming ones in Des Plaines, with its population swelling from 9,000 to more than 50,000.

Shoppers found all they needed right in the downtown, with merchants such as Brown's Department Store, Spiegler's, Square Deal Shoes and Svoboda's all within blocks of each other.

"As Des Plaines merchants, they all worked together to promote sales and other promotions," says Lou Capozzoli, whose brother and uncle still operate Square Deal Shoes. "It was a very active group and they'd get lines of people to come out for sales."

Svoboda's also was an active member of the Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce, which Frank Svoboda Sr. had started in 1934 in the city.

His son continued that civic involvement. He participated in the chamber, as well as the United Way, Lattof YMCA and the Lions Club. In 1973, he joined the board of First Federal Savings & Loan, which later became CoVest Banc. He served as bank chairman from 1988 to 2004, when it was sold.

"My dad was always interested and involved in building business in Des Plaines," Paul Svoboda added.

Svoboda closed the store in 1995 -- after 72 years of doing business -- conceding that the store no longer could compete with one-stop mall shopping and larger chains.

Besides his son, Svoboda is survived by his wife, Carol, and children John (Jill), Kathryn (Kerry) Vermeer, Sarah (Ken) Wright and Margaret; as well as eight grandchildren.

Visitation will take place from 4-8 p.m. Friday at Davenport Family Funeral Home, 149 W. Main St., before an 11 a.m. funeral service at Barrington United Methodist Church, 98 Algonquin Road, both in Barrington.

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