It should really come as no surprise that J&R Variety Store, regarded by its owner as the last of the old “five and dimes” in Chicago, is going out of business after 58 years at 63rd and Pulaski.
The surprise is that J&R has survived this long, outlasting all the Woolworths, Kresges and Ben Franklins — the other neighborhood-based, little-box stores that long ago made way for the big ones.
The explanation could be in the nature of the West Lawn neighborhood where J&R is located, one of the last in the city to turn over to a new wave of residents.
Or maybe it is just the nature of the owner, Mike Gehant, who will turn 52 on Friday and began sweeping the floors for his father, Kenneth, then the store’s manager, after school in the second grade in between doing homework in the basement.
“I’ve been here all my life,” said Gehant, who has been working at J&R full time for the last 28 years.
“Some guys collect stamps. Some guys collect Matchbox cars. This was my hobby. It’s a joy,” he said.