Breaking News
More () »

'It's just not the future small town grocery stores' | Three-generation, family owned grocery store to close

The Williams family first opened a grocery store in Annawan in 1939 called Jack Sprat Foods. Now it's called L&J's Hometown Markets.

ANNAWAN, Ill. — After 84 years and three generations, a piece of Annawan history is closing its doors. L&J's Hometown Markets is set to close by the end of the month. 

The grocery store was first opened by Vernon Williams as Jack Sprat Foods in 1939. Over the years, it's had a few different names, such as Williams Royal Blue, Williams Blue Bell and Williams IGA. It was later bought by his son, Arden, and is now owned by his grandson, Lynn, and his friend Jeff Roman.

"My great-grandfather, Ted Williams, had a small store before that," Lynn Williams said. "(My grandfather) actually grew up helping his dad in the small store."

When he was a kid, Lynn helped work at the store. They would set up milk crates for him to stand on so he could reach things.

"It just was in the family and I just took over from my dad when he was ready to retire," he said.

That was back in the 1990s. He and Jeff had a second store they'd opened in Atkinson in 1984 that they also closed last fall.

"It's just not the future small-town grocery stores, sad to say," Lynn said.

With foot traffic down at the store, he said it can't keep up with its sky-high expenses anymore. But closing was no easy decision.

"We'll miss it every day. My dad still comes in every day and helps," Lynn said. "There's so many choices now. That's one reason it's harder for small businesses. We're proud that we stuck it out for as long as we did, and we were able to do what we do for so long. And it was the community that helped us do that."

He added that he'll miss the customers the most, and it would be an understatement to say that they'll miss L&J's Hometown Markets too.

"I think when I came here in '77, he was still in high school," said longtime customer Marilyn Newman. "It'll be missed. I just can't imagine."

"On a weekend, I could come here half a dozen times," Dwight Morey said. "My grandpa and grandma come here. My mom and dad come here. Me and my wife come here. My kids come here. And all of our kids went to school together. It's just, we're one happy family."

"They take care of you," Terry Lancaster said. "And that's really important. Small town USA, that's what we live for."

Lynn and Jeff were the people you'd ask for help getting rid of a bat or dropping off a water bill on their way back from delivering your groceries. They'd check smoke detectors and dig cars out of snow.

"I was the preschool teacher here in town up until I retired about nine years ago, and we would do a unit about our town," Newman said. "We would come up and he would give us a tour of the store and he'd open the pop machine outside and put money in it and show the kids how the cans came out. He would bring a big chunk of meat out of his freezer and put it up on the counter and let the kids look at it. The kids just loved it."

This community is considered family.

"Sometimes we're not selling groceries, sometimes we're just selling what little wisdom we might have and selling our heart and soul and giving that to them," Jeff said. "We're always right there to give a hug. There's just so much that this store has done for the community, not only providing them with food, but providing them with a place to come if they need something."

Once the store closes, Lynn plans to spend more time catching up on his hobbies. He doesn't see the store reopening with a fourth generation in the future because his and his brother's kids went off to do other things.

The catering side of L&J's Hometown Markets and Catering will remain open in its Atkinson location.

Download the WQAD News 8 App 
Subscribe to our newsletter 
Subscribe to our YouTube channel

More From News 8 

Watch more news, weather and sports on News 8's YouTube channel

Before You Leave, Check This Out