SYCAMORE – A Sycamore resident for the past 12 years, Grace Katzel used to buy all of her meats from Browns' County Market grocery store.
Katzel regularly purchased her chicken, pork roast and steak from Browns' before the Sycamore store closed in 2013, when the owner transferred the property to National Bank & Trust and proceeded with Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
"I never had a bad piece of meat. It gave me confidence," Katzel said. "I would run over to Browns', get something for dinner, and I know it'd be good."
Now, the store sits mostly empty, with dozens of shopping carts inside, between Family Dollar and Resource Bank, with the Tropical Sno stand still operating in the parking lot. The Genoa branch of the store closed in 2012, leaving the town without a grocery store entirely until a Piggly Wiggly filled that location.
The Sycamore property at 403 E. State St. was up for online auction for two hours on July 22, with an opening bid of $500,000 for the 35,120-square-foot retail space. David McCoy, senior vice president and chief financial office at NB&T, said details of the auction results would not be made public for 45 days, as that is the time period the buyer would have to close.
Sycamore Mayor Ken Mundy said he had heard the property was sold. Both Mundy and First Ward Ald. Alan Bauer, whose ward includes the property, hope the location will one day bring jobs to Sycamore.
"It's a great location for any highway business," Mundy said. "I guess I'd be disappointed if it became offices or something that didn't produce sales tax revenue or jobs. As a city, that's what we need most right now. It's an ongoing challenge for the city, and any time we can add to the revenue base with new business, we welcome that."
Mundy said he looks forward to meeting whoever may own the property.
"We look forward to working with whoever the successful bidder was, getting permits issued and not holding up anything for the re-purposing of that space," he said. "It's a great location."
Bauer said he has not heard much from residents on what they would like to see there, but he has heard people talk about how they miss having a neighborhood grocery store.
"As long as the storefront is filled, occupied and conducting business, that's a good thing," Bauer said.
Some Sycamore residents hope another local grocery store will replace the Browns' site, as many who live in the area now drive about 10 minutes to Hy-Vee to get groceries.
Browns' was Sycamore resident Keith Brinkmeier's go-to grocer. He said when Hy-Vee opened in 2011, it affected business at Browns' and other businesses in the area.
"We miss it," Brinkmeier said. "Everyone at Hy-Vee is friendly, just like Browns'. People were always friendly."
Kirkland resident Laura Heyob agrees. She lived in Sycamore 11/2 years ago and used to buy her produce and meat from Brown's. She hopes a grocery store will soon open in the area so that residents don't have to make longer drives.
"It was a nice store, like a family store," Heyob said. "You would walk in and see the same people every day."