Our roots go back to 1926 when Italian immigrants, Tony and Mary Prisco, opened a neighborhood grocery store. Located on Bishop Ave. on Aurora’s southwest side, the store was actually their home and their store. The family lived upstairs and the store was downstairs in what would have been the parlor, dining room and kitchen. From that location and with Tony’s famous “Store on Wheels”, they reached out to the city’s diverse neighborhoods with a blend of personal service, humor, hard work, and compassion which made them some of the most beloved figures of their day.
Both Tony and Mary were driven to make a go of their tiny new store and together they stretched as far as they could to accomplish the American dream. Earlier, Tony had purchased a truck with his severance pay from the Marines and decided to also take the store out to the customers. He converted a van about the size of one of today’s UPS delivery vans into a store on wheels and drove it all over Aurora, parking it wherever he thought he could muster a crowd. Aboard the truck were canned and boxed foods, coffee beans, tea, cleaning supplies and laundry products.
He was also equipped with a refrigerator for milk, cheese, eggs, and a few meat items. Like any Italian grocer worth his salt, Tony offered an extensive line of fresh fruits and vegetables which he would pick up long before dawn at the South Water St. Market in Chicago.
History was definitely not on Tony and Mary’s side because as they opened their store in 1926, they were experiencing the tail end of the post WWI boom years. Then in 1929 things quickly turned from boom to bust as the Great Depression set in and threw our entire nation into financial chaos and strife, and deep unemployment that averaged close to 20% for almost ten years. Tens of thousands of US businesses failed. It is difficult to imagine how Tony and Mary were able to keep afloat, especially when in those days offering customers a handshake line of credit was common practice. It is indeed a testament to their tenacity, frugality and resilience that they were able to keep their doors open. In addition to helping Tony run the downstairs store, Mary had her hands full raising a family of four children, Anthony, Guy, Barbara and Harold. But they still had time to move the business to the corner of Lake St. and Jericho Rd., a much more visible location on that busy stretch of Route 31.
The 2nd Generation of Priscos
Just after the end of WWII, when the war rations were ending and Aurorans were eager to get back to normal, business in the store began to pick up. Tony’s son Anthony joined the business full-time and became directly involved in its management. At that same time the grocery industry was going through a major change. Prior to WWII there were very few chains, and the concept of a supermarket (self-service shopping for primarily pre-packaged goods) was still a relatively new concept. After the war as the economy grew and the population began to sprawl out of the cities and into new suburban track homes, the corner mom & pop grocery store fell out of fashion and the era of supermarket chains erupted.
The Chicago area soon became dominated by chains like A&P, National Tea, Kroger and Jewel Tea. Anthony, just new to the business, took stock of the Prisco’s store and was concerned that if they did not take some type of position to differentiate their store, they would soon be trampled by the expansion of the chains. Thanks to his astute foresight, they decided that the fresh meat category was an area where Prisco’s could make an impressive mark, so the store made changes that would affect their future in a very significant way. He started by taking a leave from the store to attend the National Meat Cutting School in Toledo, OH. There he learned modern meat purchasing, cutting, and merchandising methods. This was truly a bold step for the time and one that eventually helped give Prisco’s Fine Foods the reputation for outstanding quality and value in fresh meats, a reputation that they are proud still rings true today.
The 3rd & 4th Generations of Priscos
Anthony’s wife Ann did not enter full-time into the business with her husband because she was already managing two other careers. When first married, she taught in Aurora schools and continued to do so until they began their family of eight children which, of course, became a full-time undertaking. The grandparents retired in 1970 and Anthony and Ann’s oldest son, Rob, interrupted his academic training to help his parents remodel the store. Rob once again felt the draw toward academic life and headed off to Rice University in Houston. While in Houston, Rob met his future bride, Georgette. In 1978 they married and relocated to Rob’s home town, Aurora.
Still hoping to pursue a career teaching at the college level, Rob split his time between helping his parents at the store and teaching. In time, however, pressures of the business became too much and Rob set aside his dream of teaching and devoted his time to managing the store. In 1992 a new opportunity arose when a competitive, independent grocer decided to retire and sell his stores, one of which was located on West Prairie (our current location). The opportunity to move to a new location three times the size of the Jericho store was too good to pass up, so Rob and his dad made the move. With the help of Tony’s brother Guy, an architect by trade, they did several major remodels over time. Today, the east wall is the only remaining original part of the outside structure.
Now, as Prisco’s Family Market enters the last decade of its first 100 years of business, the fourth generation of Prisco family members have taken over ownership.
In very much the same way as they first did back in 1926, Aurora area shoppers keep coming back for our fine foods, including our award winning meats and sausages, homemade deli salads and specialty items, fresh produce, tasty café products, fine wines, craft and imported beers, and our traditional Italian and other ethnic specialties.