The Saylor family, which owns Winfield Fuel & Material Co., has waited for six years for new home construction in DuPage County to make a comeback since the housing market crash of 2007.
They're done waiting. The store, that has sat on Winfield Road next to the railroad tracks since 1895 and has been run by the same family, will close its doors once it sells off what's left of its inventory, which includes building and landscape materials and a delivery truck.
"It just hurts," said Tom Saylor, 67, who had planned on leaving the business to his two children. "I can't tell you how many days I've been in there and I've been in tears," he said. "It's very traumatic to go through this. … It's like the end of an era," he said.
According to the Winfield Historical Society, no other store in the area has been owned and operated by the same family for 118 years. That history is visible inside of the store where dozens of photos cover the walls offering a glimpse of a different way of life. Back then, the Higgins family was selling and delivering coal to local farmers who needed the fuel to heat their homes and run their farming machines.
Over time, the demand for coal lessened and by the 1950s, the building boom was on and the store transitioned to building supplies and then later added landscape material. Saylor, the son of Laurene Higgins and Thomas Saylor, took over the store in the '80s. While the store has weathered every economic downturn or housing market slump, this time, Saylor says, it's different.
"We're not seeing the housing coming back with any strength," he said adding the store has struggled to compete against big box stores such as Home Depot.
Consider new housing starts for the Chicago area. When the economy was booming back in 2005, annual housing starts climbed up to more than 30,000 for the Chicago area said Metrostudy, a market research company in Elgin that provides information to housing and related industries nationwide. In DuPage County, the company said there have been just 239 housing starts in the last 12 months.
"It truly has become a one house here or a one house there," said Chris Huecksteadt, director of Metrostudy's Midwest markets, pointing out that DuPage County is in a situation where it's harder to find land.
While new home construction is on the rise, the rebound is painfully slow. With Metrostudy predicting more than 4,000 new homes this year for the Chicago area that includes 12 counties, Metrostudy said that number is still way off from the estimated 20,000 starts that's considered "normal."
"We're still two to three years away to getting anywhere near that number," added Huecksteadt.
Besides the housing market, Saylor pointed out that the village's downtown is also struggling. Redevelopment plans have been discussed for years that include the town center. To help Saylor's business, the village last year rezoned the surrounding area to commercial in an effort to make his roughly 5-acre site more desirable to a potential developer.
"There are lots of opportunities for that site," said Winfield Village President Erik Spande, adding the village is waiting for the completion of a comprehensive plan that will provide a vision for the town including the downtown.
Saylor says it's all the waiting that's done them in and, to drive the point home, he has a skeleton sitting outside of his store. For now, the store, which is up for sale, is open in the mornings and expected to close its doors by the end of the summer.
"They've been smack dab in the core of the community and seeing them close is kind of sad," said Spande.