Grocery Stores in Kankakee – Ken Ponton’s 1950s Memories

Contributing Author: Ken Ponton

In the earlier days of Kankakee County, grocery stores did not exist. When Rivard Grocery Store opened in Bourbonnais, and shortly thereafter Erzingers in  Kankakee, and then The Big Bear on East Court Street, a good selection for grocery shopping became available. My mother worked part-time at Erzingers for several years. Erzingers later became The Fair Store, then Carson Pirie Scott, followed by The Kankakee Antique Mall, and finally a parking lot.

I worked at The Big Bear in the produce section and as a bagger in the late 1950s. One of my more disgusting jobs was making up 10 pound bags of potatoes from 100 pounds. Many rotten potatoes were in the big bags, and I was instructed to put them in the middle of the 10 pound bags so they would not show! But the smell was terrible!

The checkout lanes were all manual up to the time Wilson Christensen built a large grocery store at the northeast corner of Curtis and Jeffrey. It had the first automated check outs.

Wilson had a son, Johnnie, who was a neighbor and friend I spent lots of time with. Johnnie had a new motor scooter he would ride around and stop by our place. One day he let me ride it down the E-Z Way Bumps Road. I only got about a half mile down the road and crashed it. I spent several days at St. Mary’s with a bad concussion and many cuts.

Stores like WalMart, Target, and others are serious competition… I have great memories of early shopping and working in Kankakee. It was hard work but left me with experiences I will never forget.

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Erzinger Brothers Grocery Store exterior, located at 242 South East Avenue, Kankakee (from the archives of the Kankakee County Museum).

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