The clues have been there for months — dwindling inventory, shrinking floor space and a “for sale” sign looming high on the brick wall outside — all fueling the predictable rumors.
It wasn’t until Tuesday, though, that the owner of Bobak Sausage Co. officially confirmed the fears of his customers — Chicago’s self-proclaimed “Sausageologists” intend to close their flagship Archer Avenue retail store on Saturday.
Company President Stanley Bobak hastened to clarify that Bobak’s Sausage continues on, strong as ever, because its trademark Polish sausage and other products will still be manufactured here and sold through most Chicago-area grocery chains.
But that was of little solace to the customers I met making their pre-Easter purchases on Tuesday, many of them keeping up holiday traditions they hadn’t realized were about to end.
“Is different,” lamented Elzbieta Kocham at the prospect of shopping for Bobak’s at a regular supermarket. “Polish deli is Polish deli. It smells Polish. You can smell Polish meat, Polish bread. And it has Polish people, and you can talk Polish when you pay.”
Kocham had come in search of the fresh fish that is part of the traditional Polish Lenten meal — usually trout or carp that Bobak’s sells from ice-filled tubs.
But there was no fish this year, Bobak explaining he didn’t want to get stuck ordering too many with no way to sell off the surplus after Saturday.
The same was true for the bone-in hams that caused Tom and Phyllis Taras to make a special trip from Elmhurst, as they have every holiday season for as long as they could remember.
“We’re so sad,” she said as she left without a ham but with a big bag of smoked pork bones. “For my pea soup,” she explained.
“I’m Polish. She’s Czech,” added her husband. “We always pay a little more for the hams, but they’re so good.”
Although neither is from the old country, coming here always made them feel as if they were keeping in touch with those European roots.
Bobak’s rose above its competitors here with a good product and even better marketing — its sausages now a staple of postseason sports bets for Chicago mayors.
Stanley’s father, Frank, founded the brand in 1967 and moved it to the current location at 5275 S. Archer in 1989, with most of the facility devoted to Bobak’s manufacturing and distribution operations.
A year ago, the company moved its sausage-making into a larger plant in West Garfield Park to meet its expanded production needs, leaving the Southwest Side building mostly vacant.
Bobak said it didn’t make sense under the circumstances to continue a store that was originally intended as a factory outlet for the meat products.
“Unfortunately, the store is an innocent bystander in that,” said Bobak, whose family lived above the original store on Diversey where his father made the sausage out of the back room.
Several suburban Bobak’s stores were previously closed after a power struggle between Stanley Bobak and his two brothers, John and Joseph. Court fights over control of the company, its assets and trademarks have been ongoing since 2006.
Bobak said the family legal dispute has nothing to do with the decision to close the store.
Bozena Brogan of Bridgeport had an especially poignant reason for being “devastated” by the closing: her autistic daughter has a special attachment to the Bobak’s store, its sights and sounds. They bring her there weekly.
After Saturday, she said, they’ll probably continue to come — and each time try to explain to her daughter why they can’t go inside.