The Pritz family of Joliet is one of two honorees this year at the Project Acclaim Honors and Recognition Banquet. Their plaque will join Terry D'Arcy's plaque this year with 135 others in the Hall of Pride. The Pritz family acquired the J.D. Brown Pharmacy, helped build the Bicentennial Park in Joliet, and acquired the Jacob Henry Mansion and old Central Church complex on Joliet's east side. Here is part two of our write up about the interesting Pritz family.
The family acquired the old J.D. Brown Pharmacy at Six Corners. The place was always one of tight quarters challenges for space. The State Department of Transportation had declared that a setback was needed for the Six Corner improvements. The old building had to come down. During the move little Elizabeth received a two-block thrill and a job to keep an eye on the old J.D. Brown Store safe. The safe was on wheels itself chained to a Jeep. There was no other way to move the giant thing. Elizabeth rode on top of the safe down the street to 837 Plainfield Rod. The family owns the site of the old store, the triangular lot at Six Corners. If you have an idea on how to use it, the family is listening.
Carol Pritz said on the first day “we unlocked the building and went in.” The unfinished state of the new store building dumbfounded her. Ken Pritz merely instructed the entire family to ignore the chaos and disarticulated interior. The building was a former AP Grocery store and at one time a bank. Sue said, “Poppa sat on a garbage can inside the vacant and appalling building and said, “Close your eyes and imagine this.”
His plan described what the interior would eventually become. “We used boards and sawhorses for counters,” in the first days Carol said, “We were going to open the store regardless of the conditions.” Carol stated that it came as a rude surprise that they had forgot to stock change in the cash drawer on the first day. They were so green, the thought never occurred to them. “We learned as we went along,” Carol said.
At one time or another, the Pritz family operated three pharmacies. One on Jefferson Street, burned down. One on Route 59 in Plainfield was destroyed in the 1990 tornado. Ken had called Carol from the Plainfield location in the aftermath to report, “I’m fine but the store is gone.” Ken had saved two children outside the store in their car when the tornado arrived. He pulled them through the broken windows on the car and got both into the store with their mother. The damaged car was blown somewhere else. People will recall the story published in the local papers describing the terror of that day.
When the family acquired the Jacob Henry Mansion, Carol reported that Ken had called her son, Jeff, then in his mid-twenties. He could not leave the Pharmacy. “Save the Mansion,” was Ken’s instruction. The Jacob Henry Mansion was up for auction that day. Jeff collected his mother, who had seen the building exterior growing up, but not any part of the interior. Her first look at the drawing room came on the day she stood there with bidders. Both she and Ken had walked past the Mansion as kids heading for classes at Joliet Township Central High School (1952-1955). Ken was a B-Flat Clarinet player in the High School band and carried his instrument on the way to school, passing the Mansion each school day. “We still have that clarinet!” she said.
Carol Pritz, housewife, listened to some of the bidders crow about how much they could make by selling the building off piece by piece. Carol stated that overhearing those piecemeal plans aggrivated her and galvanized her attention. The auction had already begun when she arrived and paused upon her entry. Later when the auction resumed, she said son, Jeff, 24, pressed his fingers into her back and urged her to “Do it, mom.” Ken had not given them any instruction, except, “Save the building!” Carol stated that she had no clue on how much to bid, whether there was any top limit Ken was willing to hit, and no advice on the spot, because Ken was minding the store and she was on the firing line at the auction. Carol announced her bid. The auctioneer gaveled “Sold!"
Jeff called his father, who asked, “Who bought the Mansion?”
“You and mom did,” he told his father. Carol said her bid for the Mansion was $76,000.
“We went inside later to view what we had bought,” Carol stated. She remembered that there were no lights. Their first inspection of their building was done in the dark with flashlights.
One of bidders had offered Carol a Rolls Royce for the exquisite door hinges in the building. Carol quipped, “I had no use for a Rolls. I drive a Jeep.”
Later the family acquired the adjoining Central Church, which Jacob Henry, the rail magnate, had commissioned on the property. The Joliet Township High School had contracted use of the gym (the current Victorian Ballroom) for Physical Education Classes there. “I went to dances there,” Carol stated.
She was amazed to find, still in the Central Church building, a gumball machine. For a penny the machine dispatched a pair of Gum Chicklets for the dancers, “…so keep their breath fresh,” she stated. “I still have that Gum Dispenser,” Carol announced.
In another nostalgic episode, Carol recalled a Central alum took her to a spot off the dance floor where he explained he received his first kiss in high school. The girl later became his wife.
Today the Jacob Henry Manion and Central Church complex have earned national honors as a wedding destination.
To be Continued: Learn more about the Pritz family business model's quiet intentions and spectacular outcomes in Part Three