Still reeling from a kick in the gut by corporate America, loyal customers have been flocking to the Sara Lee Outlet Store that has been a staple of Oak Lawn neighborhood life for over 30 years.
Illinois-based Sara Lee’s split into a global coffee company and a North American operation under Hillshire Brands spelled the demise of Oak Lawn’s Sara Lee outlet and 10 others in the Chicago area. All 11 stores are slated to close next month, which means there will be another empty storefront on 95th Street.
“We’re safe through Nov. 1, but after that I just don’t know,” said the Oak Lawn store manager Peter, who referred other questions to a Hillshire Brands spokesman.
The announcement of the outlet store’s closing in June saddened many of the regular customers who came to rely on the store to help stretch their food dollars and pick up school Market Day products. And who doesn’t like to whip out a double-chocolate sheet cake at one’s bridge club and brag how she bought it on sale at the outlet store, or baked it herself that morning.
According to a corporate spokesman, Hillshire Brands after the split would not be able to devote the “attention required for success in stand-along retail operations.”
But in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon, Oak Lawn’s beloved Sara Lee outlet at 5711 W. 95th St. seemed to be running itself just fine with little corporate oversight. Customers were streaming into the store grabbing frozen crème pies, pound cakes, cheesecakes, flaky-crust fruit pies and family-sized Market Day boxes, including all varieties of frozen, microwaveable chicken.
Employees seemed to be filling freezer cases with frozen Sara Lee Desserts and bitter irony almost as fast as customers could buy them.
A Palos Hills woman was in the parking lot unloading her cart into a Chrysler New Yorker, until she remembered that she had come with a friend and it wasn’t her car.
“I’ve been coming as long as since it was built. We love it,” she said.
Asked what she was loading into her friend’s trunk, she replied: “Everything. Sheet cake, pies, pound cakes, stuff like that.”
Sarah Anhalt and her boyfriend were stocking up on pies, cheese ravioli, mozzarella cheese sticks and “those little mini-pizzas that you can’t find anywhere else.”
“I think it’s absolutely horrible that the store is closing,” Anhalt said. “I think it’s sad. It’s a staple of Oak Lawn. Instead of doing Market Day through the school we can come right here and get everything.”
Hunt grew up down the street from the store and has been coming there since he was a little kid.
“I’m still coming here today,” he said. “My mom bought pound cakes.”
Anhalt said buying discounted coffee cake at Sara Lee has been a holiday tradition in her family since she was a little girl.
“My parents have lived in Oak Lawn all their lives,” she said. “After we open our presents on Christmas morning we’d have our Sara Lee coffee cake. I don’t know what we’re going to do now.”
“Come back in November and stock up,” Hunt said.
The Oak Lawn store is slated to close sometime in November, plenty of time to fill up the freezer with sweet gifts from an old, neighborhood friend before it shutters its front door.
Other bakery outlets where you can save some dough:
- Entenmann’s Thrift Bakery, 10802 S. Cicero Ave., Oak Lawn
- Pepperidge Farm Outlet, 9919 Southwest Highway, Oak Lawn
- Wonder Bread/Hostess Outlet, 6420 W. 87th St., Burbank
Business Comings & Goings columnist Bob Bong contributed to this report.