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North Avenue Fresh Market abruptly closes its doors

North Avenue Fresh Market at 6209 North Ave. abruptly closed this week. | Google images

In an abrupt move that occurred during business hours, the embattled North Avenue Fresh Market in Oak Park permanently closed its doors on July 6, employees said.

A village official confirmed the closing later in the week.

The market, 6209 North Ave., is reportedly one of eight stores that once operated under the recently bankrupt parent Michael’s Market LLC.

Oak Park was informed of the store’s closing by a North Avenue employee earlier this week, Oak Park Business Services Manager Loretta Daly said Friday.

Representatives from the village reached out to the store to discuss “infrastructure issues” at the site when they learned the news, Daly said.

Officials could not be reached for comment at the market nor at its existing sister stores, Harvey Fresh Market in Harvey and Cermak Produce No. 3 in Chicago.

On July 6, George Dernis, whom employees identified as the previous owner of North Avenue Fresh Market, announced that the store would close that evening, said Keyana Riley, a cashier at the market.

Dernis told employees that “the bank had taken the building,” Riley said. The locks to the store’s front doors were changed that night, she said.

“They were still ringing people out when the cashier’s found out what was happening,” she said. “I’ve never experienced anything like this before.”

Riley, 36, said that the store’s employees, most of whom live in Chicago, were told to pick up their checks at the Chicago store on July 11.

Three employees confirmed Monday morning that they had been paid for their last week of work.

Ownership of the store remains unclear, even to Oak Park officials.

As the village carries out inspections and security measures at the shuttered site, officials have not determined who owns the store, Daly said.

That role appears to have changed hands at least once since 2012, when Michael’s underwent bankruptcy reorganization, according to court records.

The Chicago-based LLC blamed its lending troubles on a failing bank, according to a lawsuit filed by Dernis.

Dernis opened North Avenue Fresh Market in 2005, at the former site of an Osco store on the northeast edge of the village.

In 2010, his lender, Premier Bank of Wilmette, froze assets on an approximately $22 million loan to the grocer, due to restrictions imposed on the bank by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, according to the lawsuit.

In 2012, Dernis, the majority owner of Michael’s, filed a $20 million fraud and misrepresentation suit against Premier, stating that the bank had pressured him to hand over equity stakes at his stores as a condition of obtaining credit.

Premier Chairman Zulfikar Esmail was later arraigned on charges of defrauding the U.S. government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

Listing over $1 million in debts among 100 different creditors, the Michael’s chain began undergoing Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in January 2012, according to published reports.

According to a document provided by former employees, the store was notified in June that it owed $206,000 in back rent to a Glenview-based investment group.

The notice was addressed to Northside Market LLC, which lists Guillermo Delgado as its officer. Delgado, who was identified by other employees as the store’s accountant and possibly the owner, could not be reached for comment.

The involvement of so many investors in the operation makes it difficult to identify the owners, Daley said.

“I don’t know what the ownership status is between a private individual and a bank,” she said.

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Read about Ernest Hemingway and his ties to Oak Park by clicking here.

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