Chicago grocery chain Treasure Island Foods to shut down after 55 years

SHARE Chicago grocery chain Treasure Island Foods to shut down after 55 years

A shopper checks out at Treasure Island Foods’ Broadway location in May 1969. | Sun-Times files

The longtime family-owned Chicago grocery chain Treasure Island Foods informed employees last week that it will permanently shut down its six remaining locations next month.

“As you have recently found out, we made the very difficult decision to wind down operations as a company,” Treasure Island CEO and president Maria Kamberos said in a note sent to workers on Wednesday.

“We are sorry it has had to come to this point and we know how detrimental this is to each and every one of you and your families. We have done everything we could to attempt to get the company on solid ground to try to operate for another 55 years,” Kamberos said in the note, which was shared on social media. “Unfortunately, given the current industry conditions, it has been impossible for us to continue to operate without losing money.”

Managers at several Treasure Island locations referred questions to the company’s corporate officers, who did not respond to requests for comment on Saturday.

A representative from the Streeterville location said the chain would shut down Oct. 12, according to The Chicago Maroon, the University of Chicago’s student newspaper which first reported Treasure Island’s pending closure. Prices on remaining inventory at the Hyde Park location were slated to be cut in half.

In addition to the Streeterville and Hyde Park stores, Treasure Island has anchored locations in Lake View, Gold Coast, Old Town and Wilmette. Their Lincoln Park operation went out of business earlier this month, and the company recently had apparently pulled out of a planned location at an Uptown development.

Founder Christ Kamberos was born on the West Side to Greek immigrants, and his father sold produce out of a cart, sparking an interest in the grocery business that never waned, according to a Chicago Sun-Times obituary following his death in 2009 at 83.

Christ Kamberos opened the first Treasure Island Foods store on Broadway near Cornelia with his brothers in 1963, building up the chain’s reputation by traveling the world to bring unusual organic produce to Chicagoans.

Christ Kamberos. | Sun-Times files

Christ Kamberos. | Sun-Times files

The Sun-Times obituary noted that legendary celebrity chef Julia Child once described his family’s store as “America’s most European supermarket.”

Kamberos was remembered as a curious innovator always on the lookout for the next big thing in food, though he didn’t always succeed. Organic produce wasn’t a hit when he introduced it in the 1970s.

“We were ready, but the people were not,” the chain’s vice president of operations Lee Zarras said in 2009. Organic produce “didn’t look as good as the conventional stuff.”

In the mid-1970s, Treasure Island burst into the consciousness even of Chicagoans who didn’t shop there thanks to “Bagtime,” a fictional serial that appeared in the Sun-Times. Its central character was Mike Holiday, a bag boy at the store on Wells Street in Old Town.

The first episode of Holiday’s fictional exploits began this way:

“High noon Saturday, the Treasure Island on Wells Street. There’s a line four-deep at the check-cashing machine, and a carton of raspberries has tipped over and turned one of the aisles bright red. We’re busy. Which means I’m busy. I’m Mike Holiday. I’m a bag boy.”

The serial was popular enough to spawn a book and then a musical, produced at the old Wisdom Bridge Theater on Howard Street, directed by Robert Falls, the longtime artistic director of the Goodman Theatre, with a cast that included Megan Mullaly and B.J. Jones.

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