Tony’s Fresh Market opened Wednesday, bringing commerce and a full parking lot back to one of the busiest corners in Joliet.
The packed parking lot and was something not seen since the boom days of Kmart, which closed in 2016 after years of decline. Its exit left a big vacancy until Tony’s arrived to redevelop the corner of Jefferson Street and Larkin Avenue.
“What it has is traffic,” said Tony Ingraffia, co-founder of the chain of now 19 supermarkets in the Chicago area. “That’s what the tenants want.”
Not only is Tony’s there. A Planet Fitness will open next door. And space on the Larkin Avenue side of the building is being remodeled for future tenants.
It’s giving a new-and-improved look to one of the most traveled spots in the city.
“It’s been a lot of hard work, a lot of money,” said Domenico Gambino, Ingraffia’s partner in the business since they opened the first store in Chicago in 1979. “But at the end of the day, it’s the best for the neighborhood.”
It’s the second store in Joliet for Tony’s, which has been at the corner of Route 59 and Caton Farm Road, which rivals Jefferson and Larkin for busiest intersection in the city, for nine years.
The new store has 240 employees.
Many of the customers Wednesday were glad to have Tony’s closer to home, having shopped at the Route 59 store.
Others were in Tony’s for the first time, seeing its large array of fruits and vegetables, aisles of ethnic food, long deli counter and row of coolers with fresh meat and fish.
“It’s a lot of stuff, different varieties of meat, a lot of meat, a lot of fish,” said Jacquelynn Washington of Joliet, who was in a Tony’s for the first time. “If there was a grocery heaven, this would be it.”
Jim Kaestner of Crest Hill said he’s been shopping at Tony’s for decades, starting with the original store on Fullerton Avenue in Chicago that he used to pass while commuting from Berwyn to work.
“It has a nice variety and low prices and good, quality food,” Kaestner said.
And, now it’s “way closer” to his house than even the store on Route 59, he said.
The Jefferson Street store 68,000 square feet in size, larger than the Route 59 store and opening more space for a larger variety of goods and wider aisles.
It’s much larger than the original store which was 7,000 square feet but now takes up the entire 3600 block of Fullerton Avenue.
“It was an old A&P – very small,” Gambino said, referring to the A&P company that was a pioneer in chain supermarkets.
Tony’s will open store number 20 in Schaumburg late this year or early 2023, which is something Gambino and Ingraffia were not planning when they started the business.
“Back then, that was the farthest thing from your mind,” Ingraffia said. “You were just trying to keep your head above water. But we’ve got the family involved. The second generation is taking over.”
Jim Marnos, director of human resources, is part of the family.
Asked about the secret to Tony’s success, Marnos said, “Hard work, and that’s no joke.”