Customer loyalty and a geographic niche in south Park Ridge have steered Morningfield’s, 800 Devon Ave., through tough economic times and withering competition from an array of grocery, produce and big-box stores.
Yet Rick Teliszczak, the latest in a line of the store’s owners, knows all too well he has to stay a bit ahead of the game to keep the three-decade retail institution thriving amid business challenges.
For instance, Teliszczak has some ideas for a 2013 improvement in the deli, which is a starring feature of Morningfield's, as well as the regionally-famous bakery and Devon Avenue Meats, a tenant. Teliszczak hasn't let out any trade secrets yet, though.
And, all the while, Teliszczak will take advantage of Morningfield’s strengths as the anchor of the Devon Avenue business district.
“The store’s been here 29 years,” he said. “It’s all local traffic. A lot of the people like the convenience of not having to go to the bigger stores. Bigger isn’t always better.
“We have a coffee bar here, a liquor department, the deli, we have produce.”
Bakery, Devon Meats ‘like a marriage’
The bakery, featuring sinfully sweet pastries like bear claws, is noted for entirely producing its own line in the busy basement. That department and Devon Meats, the two store staples, can play off each other.
“It’s like a marriage, a partnership,” Devon Avenue Meats owner Vince Giardina said of his neighbor.
“We have a little bit of everything,” Teliszczak said. “We want to keep it simple. We’ll carry some gluten-free (items). We want to be a little more health-conscious.
“There a new Whole Foods coming to town. They carry a lot more products, but their prices are through the ceiling. They’re going to be fighting with Trader Joe’s, to be honest. I don’t think they’re going to affect us a lot. If we can keep running good specials – bananas 39 cents a pound every day, chili at $2.99, milk on sale for three weeks at $2.59 a gallon – it will help us.”
Teliszczak has to skillfully negotiate with vendors to keep costs in line. As an individual store, he also cannot buy in bulk for savings like large chains.
Chains lurk nearby
“Or we have to break even on some of the products just to get the customers in here,” he said. “It’s competitive. I just went to Wal-Mart for something, five miles away. In between, there are two Jewels and a Tony’s. There’s too many stores, but we just have to keep pushing.”
Part of that effort is quality and distinction of each of the Morningfield’s departments. Even though Devon Avenue Meats leases a corner of the store, it’s as much an integral part of the presentation as any other facet.
Giardina moved in 25 years ago when Morningfield’s looked to lease out its meat department. He has items like homemade Polish sausage and chop suey, while expanding his fish line.
“Just specializing in things, stay with the higher quality,” Giardina said. “We like to be known for quality and service. That always comes back to you tenfold. Our fish sales average anywhere from 650 to 700 pounds a week.
There’s a nostalgic twinge in the presentation. The ice cream and coffee bar has a throwback décor, suggesting an old-fashioned soda fountain. The eat-in area on the other side of the bakery has a landscape mural to brighten the surroundings.