There's no place quite like Kramer Foods

Beloved grocery store first located on Washington celebrating 70th anniversary this year

Series: Quintessential Hinsdale | Story 8

During the 2004 Community Revue, Joel Nelson and Tommy Harris made a cameo appearance during a skit about Kramer Foods.

"A day without Kramer's is like a day without sunshine," they said, and the place went wild. Audience members were on their feet, cheering and applauding.

Who knew people could feel that strongly about a grocery store?

But Kramer's is an institution in Hinsdale, a place where generations of family members have shopped and where some things - like the toy train that runs above a freezer unit - haven't changed for decades.

"There's grandmothers that come in with their grandchildren that love to see the train - and their children loved to see the train," said Kim Ludwigson, who owns the store with her husband, Ron. "It's generational."

The store's ownership is multigenerational, too. Kim's dad, Joel Nelson, starting working for Frank Kramer at Kramer's IGA on Washington Street in 1953. He bought the store, which by then had moved to Grant Square, in 1981, and passed it on to his daughter and son-in-law when he died in 2005.

But the owners aren't the only long-time employees. Manager Mike Kinnavy started working at the store in 1989 when he was 15, becoming a full-time employee in 1996. The list of employees who have been on staff for more than 20 years is long.

"It's kind of like family," Kim said. "Our customers, our employees, have been here so long. You kind of get that family feel with both."

Checkers know their customers by name, she said, and many of those customers know one another.

"Many times a customer is in one of the checkouts and another customer is in another, and all of the sudden you hear a squeal. They haven't seen each other for a long time," she said. "Or they come in and they start chit-chatting and they can't even remember what they came in for."

Beth Waldo of Hinsdale, who had popped in to pick up a few items Monday afternoon, said she often sees friends and neighbors while shopping.

"When I look totally disheveled, that's when I'm going to bump into people," she said with a laugh.

In addition to having that hometown feel, the store prides itself on offering impeccable service.

"I can't tell you how many times people ask for something and we get it for them," Kinnavy said. "Or we call them and tell them that it's in.

"When customers come in and there's a line, somebody opens up immediately and tries to get them out of there," he added.

The store also has a full-service deli, with homemade items like the popular heavenly chicken salad and pre-made dinners that change every month.

"My favorite right now is the grilled salmon with pineapple salsa and grilled vegetables - and it's gluten free," Kim said.

"Everything (is) done so lovingly at the deli counter," Waldo said.

While Kramer's employees do their best to stock all the items customers want, the store's footprint is relatively small. That's one of its advantages, Ron said.

"It's a small, hometown store," he said. "If you forget something, you can run back and go get it and not lose your place in line. It's quick and easy."

The Ludwigsons enjoy hearing from customers who say things like, "We're so glad you're still around" or "We don't know what we would do without you."

"It's extra sweet when people move away and (say), 'We just don't have Kramer's where we are,' " Kim said.

And, as if on cue, a customer a few minutes later said she was in town visiting her children after moving to Arizona four years ago.

"Kramer's is the one thing I really miss," Lucy Cox said. "I love the size of it. The people are great. We can't give it up."

Many customers who are retiring or relocating will ask the Ludwigsons if they can open up a Kramer's wherever it is they're moving. The couple hates to disappoint, but the answer is no, Kim said.

"This is going to stay the only one, just so you know."

Author Bio

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean