“It’s all business on Prairie Street in Aurora”
– Beacon News Article
In this day and age when smaller businesses come and go and seem to struggle mightily against much bigger competitors, there exists a different place along almost a mile stretch of Prairie Street on Aurora’s West Side.
There are no fewer than 12 small businesses, most on the south side of the street, in a predominantly residential neighborhood.
These ventures have existed in their current locations for an average of almost 40 years. That average business age bumps to 53 years when time spent at previous locations is factored into the equation.
And not surprisingly, many of the concerns are multi-generational family affairs.
Prisco’s Family Market leads the way in total years with 90, 24 at the Prairie address. Andy Guzauskas, the new owner, represents the fourth generation of family ownership. His great grandparents, Anthony and Mary Prisco, founded it in 1926.
The honor for longevity among “Prairie-only” businesses goes to Goding Marathon and owner Mike Goding. His father Bud opened the service station at Terry and Prairie in 1956.
“It was such a good street because they were things you needed daily,” said Goding. “The drug store (the now-closed Colonial, owned by two generations of the Stanciu family), the grocery store, and you could go to the dentist, get your hair cut or hair done. The drug store had a post office, and there was a bank ATM. It was just really convenient.”
Some businesses still operational today, including the year opened on Prairie Street (and for some, year opened at an earlier location as well) include:
- Young Dental Care — Dr. Kim Young and earlier Dr. Keith Young: 1962 on Prairie Street, 1957 at earlier location.
- Prairie Cleaners and Dena’s Sewing Room — Bill Stratikis and Dena Betoglou: 1980.
- Hipp Temporary — Tom and Brian Hipp and earlier Dave Hipp: 1985.
- Luigi’s Pizza and Fun Center — Bill Poss: 1999 on Prairie Street, 1981 at previous location.
- Petit Auto Care — Luke Petit and his son-in-law Paul Czinki: 1983 on Prairie, 1981 at original location.
- Griswold Feed and Seed — Steve and Tim Griswold and earlier Larry Griswold: 1968 on Prairie Street, 1945 at previous site.
- ReMax Town and Country — John McEnroe and earlier Dorothy McEnroe: 1978 on Prairie, 1956 at previous location.
- State Farm Insurance Agency — Robert Gonzalez and his son Bob: 2010 on Prairie, 1988 at previous location.
- Pilmer Real Estate — Linda Pilmer and earlier Marvin Pilmer, two locations on Prairie: 1973, 1971.
The honor for “new kid on the block” belongs to Leonardi Appliance Sales and Service, now owned by Dan Leonardi, at the busy intersection of South Lake Street and Prairie.
Although at its current location for only five years, Leonardi’s was founded by Dan’s grandfather, Lou, in downtown Aurora in 1947.
“My dad sold used appliances and did commercial refrigeration,” said Jim Leonardi, Lou’s son. “We moved to South River Street in about 1951, and started to handle new appliances and to phase out of the commercial side.”
In 1964, Leonardi’s built a warehouse on Rathbone Avenue and added onto it in 1974. Jim Leonardi recalled working at the business as a kid.
“I started helping in about 1958,” he said. “My brother (Lou Jr.) and I ran it when my dad stepped out in the early 1970s. Lou passed away in 1992, and I took it over in 1996.
“What I see all these small businesses having is something special that allows them to keep going. Our business is built on service. We have a service department and the box stores don’t,” he said. “I’ve been around for more than 50 years in this business, and I’ve seen companies come and go. What keeps the small guy going is what he does differently.”
Dan Leonardi, Jim’s son, also began working in the business as a kid.
“I cleaned appliances, and then started dabbling in fixing things,” he said. “When I graduated from college (Indiana University in 1989), I started repairing a lot of other things, and bought the service part of the business about 10 years ago.
“When Dad closed the River Street store, I meshed the retail part with the service business in this new building in 2012. Leonardi’s was my grandfather, followed by my dad, uncle, and aunt (Jan Van Fleet), and now myself.”
Dan Leonardi echoed his dad’s thoughts on the successful history of their multi-generational business.
“Our priority of customer service is what has kept us going,” he said. “You don’t get that in big box stores, and even many smaller stores sometimes.”