Era’s end: Goodbye to Gately’s building
Donna Vickroy firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 633-5982 June 24, 2011 8:02PM
This Italian Renaissance Revival-style home, 10655 S. Hoyne Ave. in Chicago’s Beverly
purchased by James
Gately in 1930. In 1973, James and Cathy Fox bought the property and went to great lengths to maintain much of its charm and architectural integrity. Today, it is for sale.
For a video tour of the home, visit Southtown
18312 S. West Creek Drive, Tinley Park
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
Years after the department store closed in 1994, journalists and others who worked at the two-story building along 159th Street in Tinley Park referred to the SouthtownStar office as the “old Gately” building.
For one, the reference was readily recognizable with longtime residents of the Southland. For another, the building still bore the remnants of its department store glory days — with its high-ceilinged spaces and escalator to the second floor.
Now, as the SouthtownStar readies to move into a more contemporary space along 183rd Street, we take a final look back at the Gately legacy, which began in 1917 when James Gately bought a small dry goods store at 112th Street and Michigan Avenue in Chicago’s Roseland community.
Gately’s People Store, which expanded several times, came to be an institution among shoppers.
“Gately’s was my favorite store,” said Patricia Kopchar, of Chicago Ridge. “The people were friendly, and there were all these tables filled with bargains. You could find anything there.”
Eleanor Gilmore, of Orland Park, fondly recalls the store’s bakery and shoe repair shop.
“I went there at least once a month,” Gilmore said.
Gately also headed the Chicago Park District from 1946 to 1967, during which time the number of parks grew from 135 to more than 400. But it was his commanding presence in the department store that most recall.
“I still can see Mr. Gately standing at the front of the store, greeting everyone,” said Rosalind Lewis, who today lives in Crete. “He was so kind. That store sold everything — jewelry, socks, underwear — and they had the nicest purses.”
During the Great Depression, when Chicago schoolteachers were paid in scrip, a payment akin to a promissory note, Gately honored them on the dollar.
“He knew if we survived the Depression, people would remember us,” said his grandson, John Gately Jr. “That’s how we became the greatest independent retailer in the state at the time.”
Sandy McAneney, of Homewood, still has the 10-inch Gately’s Christmas ornament she bought when she was pregnant with her oldest son, Michael, 45 years ago. She also has the one she bought three years later before her son, Patrick, was born.
“I bring them out every Christmas,” she said.
Eunice Hoekstra can recite the phone number to the Chicago store where her mom, Jennie Aardsma, worked in the lingerie department.
“COmmodore 4-4200,” Hoekstra said.
Her mother worked a split shift, which meant she worked several hours in the morning, returned home after school to get dinner on the table and then went back to the store from 6 to 9 p.m.
“She never worked at the Tinley location, but when they moved to Tinley, we were one happy bunch of women,” Hoekstra said.
By the mid-1960s, businesses were beginning to struggle along South Michigan Avenue. Many fell victim to the decade’s “white flight” and the closing of steel mills and factories.
In 1975, in an attempt to follow its customer base, the Gately family opened the Tinley Park store in the Brementowne Mall. Five years later, the Roseland store closed.
The new location, run by James Gately’s son, John Sr., continued to be a destination. Shoppers came for clothing, shoes and doughnuts made on that peculiar doughnut machine. Families with children in parochial school shopped there for uniforms.
Arnetta Johnson’s husband, Ray, sold shoes at the store before the two were married.
“It was a big part of my life. I shopped there all the time and used to get my hair done in the salon,” the Tinley Park resident said.
Tinley Park Mayor Ed Zabrocki, who grew up on the Southeast Side, said: “I remember going to the old Gately’s People Store on Michigan Avenue in Roseland with my mom and dad. It was an excursion.”
There was a restaurant that offered food at very reasonable prices, he said.
Thanks to her job at Gately’s, Nancy Halbauer learned how to make change. She also fondly recalls how she and another worker in the candy department laughingly decided to tape malted milk balls to their hips rather than gain weight the old-fashioned way.
“We were 16,” she said. “And now, I’m the dean of women at Queen of Peace High School. Thank you, Gately’s, I owe it all to you.”
Much like Brementowne Mall, the Tinley Park Gately’s store struggled to compete with new discount retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target. Despite efforts by village officials, who declared Oct. 30, 1993, to be “Gately Day,” John Gately Sr. announced the store’s closing the next summer.
The news devastated his son, John Gately Jr., who worked at the store.
“The hardest thing I ever did was go to the village and apply for the going-out-of-business license,” said John Jr., who lives in Homer Glen and works as a consultant. “Everyone in the village office looked up and said, “Wah?”
Zabrocki said “Gately put faith in Tinley Park by building in Tinley Park. I am sure that he had the opportunity to go to Orland Park but chose us.”
That decision blazed a trail for subsequent retail growth in the village.
Shirley Leer lived close enough to walk to Gately’s. When she learned it was closing, she applied for temporary work there to help with clearing out merchandise.
“I was 65 at the time and between jobs,” Leer recalled. “They hired me to help organize merchandise and wait on people. It was part-time, temporary work just to get them though the final sale. They were great to us, gave us great discounts at the end. It was a lot of fun working there, but I was really sorry to see it close.”
“The Gately family has always held our customers close to our hearts,” John Gately Jr. said. “We treated them like an extension of our family because Gately’s was a family department store, yes old-fashioned, but good prices, good selection and great value.
“Our customer service was pure and simple: the customer is always right,” he said. “I started working in the Roseland store when I was 13 years old (holidays mostly), and I remember asking my grandfather one time why he sold stuff so cheap. His reply was, ‘Well, Johnny what would you rather have, fast nickels or slow dimes?’
“I think that just about sums it up. So, thank you one and all for shopping at Gately’s People Store.”