Pushing through the antique wood frame screen door and stepping onto the well-worn original plank flooring of the , you can't help but think of oldtime Frankfort, the village with 1890s charm, as the town slogan read for years.
While the store has changed hands over the decades, the building at 119 Kansas St. really hasn't changed purposes in the past 100-plus years. Current owners Carol and Jack Wilger, however, have only owned the store for two and a half of those years. They'll celebrate that accomplishment with an event on Saturday, Oct. 15.
"It's really a thank you to everyone who was loyal to us and helped us be in business two and a half years," Carol Wilger said.
Neither she nor Jack had experience in small-business ownership or retail sales when Jack saw an ad in a local paper advertising the sale of the Frankfort General Store in April 2009, Wilger said.
After calling the real estate agent, the Wilgers saw the property, put in an offer and closed the deal 10 days later. They've spent the past two and a half years making the store their own, figuring out what sells and what doesn't, and who buys what. Yet Carol said it's been a great experience.
The Wilgers felt they had a sure sign that they were meant to open the shop right from the beginning. Jack has always been a Green Acres television series fan, and when the Wilgers had to set up a limited liability company for the business, they incorporated Green Acres into the name. Then, when going through boxes in the storeroom after taking possession of the store, Jack found an autographed postcard from Eva Gabor in the dusty old box. It was like it was meant to be, Wilger said, beaming.
Both widowers and remarried to each other later in life, the couple went into business with the attitude that they've been through the worst in life, so if this didn't work out, they'd still be OK, Wilger said.
This positive attitude has kept them going even when the economy and a lack of traffic west on Kansas made them think they might have made a mistake. Jack, who still has his day job, has even developed his own following of regulars, Wilger said.
"If I'm in working a Saturday and Jack's not there, people will ask me where he is," Wilger said, chuckling.
Those regulars are adding up to repeat business, which is getting stronger and stronger.
"We also attract the walkers and joggers early in the morning," Wilger said. "They peek in the windows and then call me later in the day and say, 'I want that chicken!' "
In addition, Wilger credits Cindy Vassel, owner of , as being a huge supporter and encourager. Having Vassel's business relocate across the street a year ago has led to increased traffic in her own shop, Wilger said. Both merchants are active in the , which creates shopping events to draw people to the downtown district like and the .
The Frankfort General Store carries a mix of gourmet, gift and collectible items, many made by area residents, such as Lorenzo's pasta sauces (Lorenzo is from Frankfort). They also like to carry products whose sales benefit charitable organizations, such as Jim Mullen's Apple Sauce. Mullen was a Chicago police officer shot in the line of duty, and proceeds benefit his foundation. Another favorite that repeatedly sold out last Christmas was Finley Grace candles and fragrances. This Galena-based company offers botanical scented products, and a portion of the profit benefits the owner's granddaughter's charity.
Nostalgic candy is another big seller, Wilger said.
"We owe our success to the children of Frankfort," she said. "They found us first and went home and told their mothers, who started coming in."
Frankfort General Store Anniversary
When: 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15
Where: Frankfort General Store
What's going on: Refreshments, free gift with purchase, balloon sculptures for kids, ArtTrek 2011 displays.