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The Little Man
Jill Jaracz

Photo: Jill Jaracz
Above: Kanti’s Sundries
When you need something in a pinch, it’s usually easiest to run to your local convenience store, which is usually located on the corner, or just downstairs in your building. Can’t find what you need, you can always stop in one of the many 24-hour grocery or drug stores, but grocery stores usually have long, painful lines, and you never know what sort of crazy stuff you’ll find at the drug store. When you need real convenience you hit the corner store, or as I like to call it, the Little Man store.

Do I mean the White Hen? Not really. First off, White Hen isn’t going to be around much longer because 7-Eleven bought it and will be changing them over at some point in the near future. I’m also not talking about a food mart in a gas station, craptastic as they may be sometimes. This is not the Little Man. Why? Even though small businessmen usually franchise these stores, they still have the chain store name behind them. After all, you don’t live in a city to shop at chain stores all the time, right? I’m talking about the small mom and pop store wedged in the middle of a block or under the L that you pass by all the time. The windows are covered with signage from years (or decades) past, and the stores are crammed with just about anything you could need in an emergency.

How’d they get the label “Little Men”?
Why do I call these “Little Man” stores? Kanti’s Sundries, the one in my office building is small in a couple of ways. First off, the store is maybe six feet wide at its widest point and is no more than eight feet long—a seriously little store. It used to be run by the skinniest guy I’d ever seen, hence I just called him “The Little Man,” and after a while I just identified the store with his size. Soon enough every small convenience store just became a Little Man store in my lexicon.

Photo: Jill Jaracz
Wicker Park Food Mart
What can I find at the Little Man?
Although the store may be small, this kind of convenience store can really have some great finds. For its size, Kanti’s stocks an amazing number of items. It’s got a full line of candy, some chips, muffins, snack bars, beverages, water, lottery tickets, newspapers, cigarettes, painkillers, and umbrellas, among other things. And by golly, if I’m ever craving a Cherry Coke Zero or a Pop Tart, I can jet down, get the goods, and be back at my desk before anyone misses me. The only downside? If there are more than two people in the store, you have to do a little shuffle in order to get in and out.Many office buildings in the Loop have these little sundry shops tucked inside them. They pack in an amazing number and variety of items for the amount of space they have. The prices may be a little steeper than at the drugstore, but you don’t have to leave the building, and most times—especially in winter—that convenience is well worth the price.

Often the Little Man stocks things you won’t find anywhere else—each one will surprise you if you take the time to hunt through them. SS Food & Liquor in Lincoln Park is a pretty well appointed store. It’s bright and clean, and for a Little Man, it’s a pretty big place. They’ve got a little magazine section, aisles of snacks, canned and paper goods, a wall for non-alcoholic beverages, and a wall for booze. Hidden amongst the commonalities are some real treasures: baby bottles, can openers, Jamaican-style pop, Rogue and Brooklyn Beers. At the front counter there’s a small display of Cadbury candy that’s hard to find outside of the UK and Canada. It’s almost better to shop here than at a fancy food store.

Photo: Jill Jaracz
Din Foods
Wicker Park Food Mart, located near the Milwaukee/Damen/North six corners, also has some convenience food that’s geared toward foodies. Not only can you grab your morning coffee or cappuccino here, but you can also choose from a variety of Amy’s frozen meals or California Pizza Kitchen frozen pizzas. They even stock Lurpak Danish butter. Try finding that at the Jewel!

Photo: Jill Jaracz
Broadway Discount
If you like specialty root beer and ginger ale, stop in Din Foods on Belmont in Lakeview East. They’ve got several varieties to choose from. Want to make a stir-fry but need the baby corn and water chestnuts? Broadway Discount is your place. Broadway Discount also cuts keys, and they’ve got reading glasses for only $3.99. You’ll never find a bargain like that at Walgreen’s!

Photo: Jill Jaracz
Mini Mart
Some Little Men have items that you wouldn’t think to look for at all. In River North, the Mini Mart on Clark features a lot of tobacco and pipe products. They also advertise snacks and pop—and wait a second, is that a child’s tea set in the case? I never would’ve thought the Little Man would sell emergency children’s toys, but I’m impressed to be proven wrong. The Mini Mart also goes against one of the axioms of convenience stores: Here you don’t always pay for convenience. True, they have items that cost more than if you’d buy them at CVS, but I got a Balance Bar here for 85 cents. Yep, almost a dollar cheaper than other places! Some of the more entrepreneurial Little Men may try a little extra in-store marketing to drum up some business. While you’re in the Dearborn Food Market in Boystown, be sure to stop at the “Indian Bazaar” and do a little extra shopping. OK, the bazaar is really just a card table with some scarves, ashtrays, and jewelry, but it’s pretty cool that you can buy a package of Oreos and a snazzy bangle bracelet all at the same place.

Photo: Jill Jaracz
Super Discount
Not everything about the Little Man is great though. Although they try to give you a wide variety of items, there’s usually one department that they don’t quite excel in: Produce. This is especially true if there is a full grocery store within a reasonable distance. Swanie’s, a Little Man tucked into a high rise apartment building in Lakeview East is your typical store: Friendly Little Man behind the counter, has a wide variety of items, and if you turn the wrong corner, you’ve ended up in a makeshift stockroom. However, it also has a couple of baskets in a cooler with some sad-looking fruit in them. Oh, they try, but if you’re looking for fresh produce, you’d better find out when they get their shipments in.

The produce at a Little Man can be better quality, however, if you’re in an area without good grocery store coverage. Evergreen Pantry in Wicker Park is one of those corner stores that does its best to provide decent fresh food. The bananas by the register are usually in good shape, and one of the coolers holds a few nice-looking green peppers and avocados. They’re great for when you just don’t have the time to make a full run to the grocery store.

Moving on, let’s talk about the wide selection of porn the Little Men have to offer. Take Super Discount in Old Town. Seems like a normal place—not a super big selection, but they do have an ice cream cooler. If you go to the back, you can also feed your need for Cleavage or Leg Sex or a variety of DVDs. Din Foods is another Little Man that has tons of XXX DVDs to accompany their collection of Older & Bolder and Big Jugs, just to name a couple.

Photo: Jill Jaracz
S.S. Food & Liquor
Scary Looking Store, but is the Little Man Scary?
Not at all! Little Men are often really friendly and like to make conversation with you….unless they’re talking on the phone. Some, like the Man at Din Foods, are notorious for being on the phone during your entire transaction. The flipside is S.S. Food & Liquor, where they like their regulars so much that they have their pictures on the wall.

What makes the Little Man Great?
Going to a Little Man store, no matter how off-putting it may seem from the street, is so refreshing in this city where everything’s quickly becoming a bank or chain restaurant. You don’t have the slick signage or surly teenager behind the cash register, the Little Man is glad to see you, even if he’s yakking on his cell phone. And whenever you need him, the Little Man is there for you. Don’t be afraid to walk on in a poke around.

Listings associated with this Feature:

SS Food & Liquor

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