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Bankruptcy filing spells end of Browns' County Market

SYCAMORE – The doors have closed for good on Browns' County Market.

The grocery store's property in Sycamore has been turned over to a local bank and the business is undergoing Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings.

Owner Dan Brown and Brown Supermarkets Inc. transferred the property at 230 W. State St. to NB&T of Sycamore on June 11, records show. Ten days later, the corporation filed for bankruptcy in federal court in Rockford. Under Chapter 7 bankruptcy, a corporation is dissolved and its assets are liquidated.
Brown said he decided to file bankruptcy "with great sadness."

"We have been in the community since 1945, growing the business through customer service and our employee commitments," Brown wrote in an email. "I cannot begin to tell you how many great people worked for the company over the years.

"Despite the economic downturn and increased competition from the chains stores I still view our time in Sycamore as a success. I thank all that supported us throughout the years: employees and customers alike."

Brown's County Market started as Browns' Corner Market in a small house on State Street, where the Sycamore location's parking lot now exists. It expanded in 1958 with the 35,000-square-foot Sycamore store and added a Genoa location in 2005.

In its bankruptcy filings, the company reported having $3.8 million in liabilities and only $3,700 in assets – a 2007 Dodge Nitro with 120,000 miles. The majority of the debt, about $3 million, was to NB&T of Sycamore. Another large creditor was the United Food and Commercial Workers Pension Fund, which had a $575,000 claim, according to court records. Brown was paid an annual salary of $64,810.

Before filing for bankruptcy, Brown also sold the property at 439 W. State St. in Sycamore, where a Wendy's store is located, and the Genoa Browns' location at 600 Pearson Drive, as both properties had been collateral against loans, Brown's bankruptcy attorney John Biallas said.

"Mr. Brown cooperated fully to the extent that he could in helping to liquidate assets," Biallas said.
When the Genoa Browns' County Market location closed in November, Brown told The Daily Chronicle that the grocery industry had struggled to compete with big-box chains such as Walmart, and that sales at the Genoa location had dropped sharply in 2009 and never rebounded.

Eggleston's Pharmacy, which had operated inside both the Sycamore and Genoa Brown's locations, was sold to Jewel-Osco in March. In April, Piggly Wiggly announced plans to open in the Genoa location without a pharmacy.

The day the Genoa location closed in November, Brown announced that Family Dollar would operate at the Sycamore location. Family Dollar opened April 4 in about 9,000 square feet of the former grocery store; an interior wall was built so the two retail spaces did not connect inside.

Sycamore City Manager Brian Gregory and Mayor Ken Mundy said they were unsure what the future holds for the former grocery location in Sycamore. Browns' County Market was a well-respected and valued part of the Sycamore community, they said.

"We love to cut ribbons and we love to welcome business," Mundy said. "But on the other hand, we're always reluctant and sad to see any business having trouble, because business is the lifeblood of our community."

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