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Stanley’s produce closes: ‘We tried everything we possibly could’

This sign greeted customers and workers at a closed Stanley’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetables on Monday. | Stefano Esposito/Sun-Times

The hand-scrawled sign on the front door of Stanley’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Monday read: “Closed for remodeling.”

But to the dismay of many employees and customers of the 51-year-old Goose Island market, that didn’t appear to be the truth.

“We tried to secure a business loan financing to keep the business going, but since it wasn’t making money, we couldn’t secure the loan,” said Peter Panagiotaros, whose father started the business in 1967. “We tried everything we possibly could.”

Workers showed up — some before dawn — on Monday, expecting to begin their shifts; instead they found the doors locked and the sign, which also told them to return later in the week to collect their paychecks.

“I’m really mad because we’d been asking this past six months, asking what’s going on, why there isn’t stuff (on the shelves). We were closing earlier” each day, said Elizabeth Garcia, 18, a cashier.

Amalia Bautista, a 16-year employee, said she worked her regular Saturday shift and wasn’t told anything about a closure.

“We didn’t know they were going to close,” she said. “We should have at least gotten a week’s notice if we were going to be out of a job.”

She added, “How am I supposed to find a job now with such short notice?”

Dozens of customers showed up too, tugging at the locked door — only to be given the bad news.

Rudolph Briseno, 74, lives a few hundred feet away in a brick three-flat. He’s been coming to the store since it opened. He hobbles on a cane — shrapnel punctured his leg during the Vietnam War.

“I buy everything here — bananas, apples, grapes,” he said. “I’m going to miss it. I’ve been coming here since … before I went into the service.”

Panagiotaros said he remembered being eight years old and helping to flatten cardboard boxes at the store known for good, especially cheap produce.

“It just so happened that the big box stores had more money to lose than we did, and they stuck it out longer than we could,” he said.

The property had been put up for sale last year. Stanley’s wanted to “exit the market” and “take advantage of surging development demand,” according to a press release issued then by CBRE — a real estate brokerage group that was to sell the property. That appeared to be a reference to the Lincoln Yards mega-development nearby, which recently got the green light from the Chicago City Council.

On Monday, Keely Polczynski, the listing agent, said the property — occupying about two acres — remains on the market.

“We’ve had some fits and starts with a couple of developers that have had different plans for the site, but we are currently not under contract with anybody,” Polczynski said, declining to name the potential buyers.

Panagiotaros, however, said on Monday that the closing was unrelated to Lincoln Yards.