‘We held out a little longer’: Family-owned Island Foods closing after nearly 51 years in Island Lake

Jeff Hollander who has worked at Island Foods for more than 10 years moves stock to different shelves Wednesday. After nearly 51 years, the Island Lake grocer will be closing as the owners retire.

An “everything must go sale” has been on for awhile and many of the shelves are empty. Now, after half a century it’s the homestretch for Island Foods, a family-owned business on busy Route 176 in Island Lake.

About a third of the inventory remains and is being reduced with a blowout sale planned this weekend. When the doors will be locked for the last time is undetermined but this time, certain.

“We don’t have a date but it will be soon – sometime in May,” said Michele Crisci, co-owner with her sister, Denise Turner, and their respective husbands, Joe and Mark.

“It’s bittersweet, that’s the best way to describe it,” explained Denise. “It started as a family business and it continued that way. That’s probably why we stuck it out.”

Nearly 19,000 vehicles a day pass on Route 176.

Weekends would hop with visitors coming to their country cottages in the area and neighboring communities including Lake Zurich, Barrington and McHenry.

Many cottages in the tiny town of about 8,000 have been converted to full-time homes and many customers have been shopping at Island Foods for decades.

Throughout its history, Island Foods has remained a neighborhood place where everybody knows everybody and some who got their first jobs here years ago still stop by to say hello.

“We’re friendly, we smile at them, we talk to them, we know them,” said Charity Faurie, a cashier and service desk person who lives in McHenry and has worked here on and off for 30 years. “I liked the store, I liked who I worked for and with, and the customers.”

Denise and Michele’s father, Fred Martucci Sr., and his three brothers, all from Chicago, operated meat markets and expanded to grocery stores in Broadview and Maywood.

In 1972, they learned of an opportunity in Island Lake and revamped the closed Robinhood grocery store.

Within a few years, they decided to go bigger and better but didn’t go far, building a new store just across the parking lot to the east. The sisters worked at the original Island Lake store as kids and never left.

At the time, there weren’t many options in the area and Island Foods became known for customer service, quality merchandise and fair prices, according to Michele.

The new store featured the latest elements of that era, including phones in every aisle so customers needing help could check in with the service desk. They’ve been removed but the original flooring, installed square by square, has held up.

Given the brothers’ expertise and knowledge, the store became known for its meats.

“That was a Number 1 reason for a lot of the customers to come. They still do,” Michele said.

Customers have been stocking their freezers, she said.

“We’re keeping the deli and the meat (department) going for people around here because that’s what they come for,” Michele said.

The bakery featuring fresh-baked bread was another customer favorite.

The dissolution of Central Grocers Cooperative, which filed bankruptcy in 2017, affected Island Foods and others.

“It was a hard blow for all the independent grocers that belonged to them,” Denise said. “That’s when everything became more of a challenge.”

The sisters say they have been considering retirement for a couple of years. Plans to close were announced last July on Facebook but later extended to an undetermined time as the family stayed while trying to generate interest from a new operator.

“We held out a little longer on hopes a grocery store would come but it didn’t happen,” Denise said.

The time has come to retire, Michele said, and there is no one in the family to take over.

A closing date will be announced on Facebook.

The family owns three buildings on 4.4 acres. The site includes the current building, the original Island Foods, which later was occupied by a hardware store and a bank to the east. The other buildings have been vacant for years and the property has been on the market as a redevelopment opportunity.

Mayor Richard McLaughlin said officials are trying to change the look of what he described as a “pass through” town. They don’t want another gas station but haven’t been able to connect with another grocery operation or suitable use, he said.

“A lot of people don’t like that they’re going to have to go someplace else,” said Faurie. “Me, too.”