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Cribb honored for 75 years of serving community

Jeremy Cribb great-grandsCribb Fine Foods founder Harold Cribb grills some 75 free hamburgers given customers Thursday Jan. 16 celebrate store's

Jeremy Cribb, great-grandson of Cribb Fine Foods founder Harold Cribb, grills some of the 75 free hamburgers given to customers on Thursday, Jan. 16, to celebrate the store's 75th anniversary. | Dan Moran/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 18, 2014 6:23AM

The smell of a July barbecue was in the January air outside Cribb Fine Foods on Thursday, Jan. 16, as Jeremy Cribb, great-grandson of the Franklin Street grocery’s founder, cooked up the first of 75 free hamburgers to celebrate the store’s 75th anniversary.

It was perhaps fitting that beef was at the center of the celebration, since quality meat seems to be the first thing mentioned when regulars discuss their loyalty to one of the city’s last neighborhood groceries.

“I won’t buy meat anywhere else in Lake County,” said Waukegan attorney Steve Martin as he prepared to sample a burger. “I started coming here in 1970, and my wife’s mom and dad are from Waukegan and they started shopping here in 1958.

“Here’s the deal,” added Martin. “Anything you want, they’ll cut it any size you want. You can call in, they’ll have it ready for you. ... I can tell you right now, it’s the best product you’ll ever put in your mouth.”

Leading a contingent of City Hall workers to the store for the presentation of a resolution honoring the landmark anniversary, Mayor Wayne Motley — who recalled being a customer as a young family man in the early 1970s — praised the store for its survival in a big-box world.

“Obviously, we know the quality and we know the commitment to the city,” Motley said, handing the resolution to third- and fourth-generation members of the Cribb family. “We’re so proud of you and your business and your dedication. We came here just to let you know that we appreciate you.”

Jenny Cribb, wife of Jeffrey Cribb, grandson of the store’s founder, told Motley that “we’d like to thank everybody for their continued support for a small, family business throughout the years. ... We appreciate word-of-mouth advertising (and) our ongoing customers. That’s what makes us stay here.”

The brick building on corner of Franklin and Ash streets, which was constructed in 1906, has actually housed a grocery under one name or another since 1912. In the 1930s, Harold Cribb worked at what was known as Guthrie’s Grocery Store when the timeline began for the current business.

“Harold Cribb, or Grandpa, purchased it from the Guthrie family because Mr. Guthrie had passed away and Harold worked for them,” Jenny Cribb said. “The actual date he purchased the business was Jan. 9, 1939, (and) so we actually started the celebration a week ago.”

Harold’s son Jacque joined the business in 1963, and an eastern addition to the building was opened in 1966. Jacque’s son Jeffrey, who like most Cribbs worked at the store since childhood, took ownership ten years ago with wife Jenny.

Asked what he learned about running a community grocery from his elders, Jeffrey Cribb said “just be honest. I don’t know how else to say it — just don’t cheat anybody. Treat people fair. You don’t want to be gouging people when they’re paying a little bit more money for a better product.”

Jenny Cribb said survival in a strip-mall world “has a lot to do with customer service (and) the convenience of running into our store for many different products.”

“Obviously, we’re not the only grocery store around anymore,” said Cribb of Waukegan, which has two Jewel-Osco stores, among others. “People don’t shop here like they used to, but they still come from all around to get their meat here, and they even ship it around the country.”

Sixth Ward Ald. Larry TenPas said walk-up stores like Cribb’s live on because they fill a need that businesses on major roadways can’t meet.

“What other store is around where you can get quality food and it’s within walking distance of your house?” TenPas said. “It’s one of the few local grocery stores that we have. It’s a store that’s survived, and why has it survived? Because of the quality products — and because of the meat.”

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