BAPA Icon Collection: County Fair Celebrates 60 Years of Success 

BAPA Icon Collection is a special series dedicated to honoring the legacy of local businesses that have been an integral part of our community for decades. Each article shares the rich history, the families that built them, their enduring contributions, and the secrets behind their longevity. Join us as we celebrate the timeless businesses that continue to shape the fabric of our community.  

By Carol Flynn 

County Fair Foods at 10800 S. Western Avenue has been woven into the very fabric of Beverly/Morgan Park for 60 years.  

The familiar red barn entrance, singing chickens display, Billy Bucks, and even the style of ads and price signs all contribute to the welcoming atmosphere reminiscent of past days when mom-and-pop grocery stores were the mainstay of America. Yet no mistake should be made, the products and services offered at County Fair are completely modern.  

These days, that an independent grocery store has stayed in business this long is a sure sign the management is doing something right. Credit for County Fair’s success goes to the Baffes family that owns County Fair and has been in the grocery business for four generations. 

Thomas and Diana Baffes, who came from Greece, started the family in the grocery business in 1925 when they operated the New City Food Mart at 59th Street near Western Avenue.   

Their son William (Bill or Billy) was born in 1932. A favorite line of his is that he was practically “born in my dad’s mom-and-pop store.” Bill carried on the family tradition in the late 1950s when he opened his first grocery store on 111th Street just west of Western Avenue.  

In 1959, Bill and Joan Walant married. According to Ancestry.com records, her family was of Lithuanian descent and her father was a construction engineer in a machine factory.  

Bill became interested in a vacant lot on 108th Street and Western Avenue, convinced investors to help him purchase the land, and built the current store there in 1964. Joan came up with the name “County Fair.”  

When the store opened, the Associated Food Retailer magazine wrote, “This super represents everything a shopper can expect when marketing for foods.”  

They eventually purchased the rest of the property on the block and expansions to the store over the next decades led to the store that exists today. In 1990, Realty and Building magazine reported on a 5,000-foot expansion, noting the opening of the bakery and enhancement of the deli, and that the most emphasis would be on a state-of-the-art produce section.  

The third generation of the Baffes family is now running the store. Tom Baffes, Bill’s and Joan’s son, is president. His sister Terri Baffes Winkler is vice-president and secretary, and her husband Mike Winkler is general manager. Their sons, Bill Baffes and Matt Winkler, are the next heirs apparent, according to Tom. 

Independent, family-owned grocery stores like County Fair are rare today. Competition from chain grocery stores, hypermarkets like Walmart, big box stores, and even dollar stores, all which can keep prices lower because they can buy in large quantities, have forced most independent stores to close. According to industry experts, those independent stores that are successful remain so because they offer good customer service, customized product assortments, and connections to local suppliers. County Fair does all three.  

Many people comment on internet review sites about the fresh, high-quality produce, meats, and bakery items; the hot buffet, salad bar, and deli counter; and the friendly, helpful service.  

Specialty items like their best-selling chicken salad and fresh-popped popcorn, and their Billy Bucks coupon program, are popular with customers.  

According to the National Grocers Association, however, independent groceries are most successful where their roots run deep, and they demonstrate a commitment to the values of the community. 

The relationship with the Beverly/Morgan Park community is, and always has been, the key to County Fair’s success.  

County Fair has shown its commitment to the community through generous financial gifts to local organizations like the Beverly Arts Center, which showed its gratitude by renaming its theater the “Baffes Theater.”  

The store’s name always appears on the list of sponsors for numerous community events,  serves as a source of employment for local youth and offers its employees a scholarship program. People still apply for jobs the old-fashioned way, in person at the store; they do not have to deal with an on-line application process.  

People in the community have been loyal shoppers there for years. Examples of comments found on internet review sites include: “I have lived in this neighborhood all of my life. I will always spend my food budget at County Fair. I look forward to my daily trips there;” and “I love shopping here! It’s also great how they support the neighborhood! Thanks County Fair!” 

Although the primary mission of the store is to sell groceries, it is also known to be the place where patrons connect in the community. Shoppers always encounter neighbors and acquaintances when they visit County Fair, giving them the opportunity to catch up on news and events.  

“I’ve had customers tell me they have to plan extra time when they come to the store so they can visit with the friends they run into here,” Terri Baffes Winkler said. 

As the store celebrates its 60th anniversary, the Baffes family extended its gratitude to the community through special offers in the store and a big celebration in the parking lot last month. 

“This really is all about a thank you to our wonderful customers who have supported us throughout these 60 years and kept us going,” said Tom Baffes. “We really appreciate this neighborhood.”  

They intend to be here a whole lot longer.  

“We’re staying put. We have a great relationship here,” said Tom.     

Beverly/Morgan Park is often referred to as the “Village in the City.” While many stores selling groceries have come and gone, County Fair remains the village grocery store.   

 

 

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