Kohlrus Foods.1512N15th40a-730x700

Kohlrus & Sons Grocery at the corner of Converse and 15th Street was opened in 1932 by the maternal grandfather of Sandy Baksys. Sandy’s mother Josephine left school and went to work in the store in 1934 when she was 15. Photo circa 1940, courtesy of the Sangamon Valley Collection, Lincoln Library, Springfield.

By William Cellini, Jr.

Prior to chain grocery stores, food retailing was independently owned and operated. The so-called “corner grocery” was smaller and more primitive, with wooden barrels filled with grain and dried fruits, where mice and roaches often congregated. Inconsistent pricing of goods and a lack of refrigeration often meant customers were offered a limited selection.

In family-owned operations, the grocer’s family often lived behind or above the store. Springfield had an abundance of independent, family-owned and operated stores prior to World War II. Depending on the demographic of a neighborhood, immigrants who’d been in the country for less than a generation owned many of the stores.

Such was the case with a Lithuanian-born immigrant named Kaston Stockus [Lithuanian variant, Kastantus Stočkus]. Kaston and his family operated a grocery at the corner of 16th St. and Sangamon Ave. in the 1910s when the neighborhood was unofficially called “Little Lithuania.”  This is the same corner–the same building, in fact–that generations of Springfieldians associate with a neighborhood eatery called The Fairview Tavern, known for its cabbage rolls, chicken and noodles, ham and beans and other comfort food.

The Palusinski  family owned and operated The Fairview for decades. Their connection to the building was through Kaston Stockus’ daughter Ella, who married Alex Palusinski in 1939. Alex and Ella ran The Fairview until their retirement in the 1980s. 

Before Kaston’s grocery or the Fairview ever existed, Sangamon Avenue was the northern-most boundary of Ridgely Village, an unincorporated section of Springfield until 1907.  In the 1880s, it was the Ridgely family of Sangamon County that developed land northeast of Springfield and incorporated a village there with a town hall, a mill, a school, company housing for workers, and several modest home sites.  

Charles Ridgely helped develop the village and owned several coalfield operations in Sangamon County.  

By the early 1900s when Lithuanian immigrants moved into Ridgely to supply manpower to nearby coal mines, the village had a complement of taverns and stores. Kaston Stockus emigrated to the U.S. in 1899 from Šiauliai County, Lithuania, and he became a citizen in 1904. He lived at 16th and Sangamon in Ridgely in a multi-level building that ultimately became his grocery.

The owner of that building was Anton Martzen, a Lithuanian-born tavern operator from Taylorville who had moved to Sangamon County after his tavern burned down. In 1909, Martzen opened a tavern on the first floor. The U.S. Census of 1910 indicates he also ran a boarding house in the building for miners and Kaston Stockus was a resident there with the occupation of “butcher.”

In 1913, Kaston bought Martzen’s property and began operating his own grocery and butcher shop on the first floor. Prior to Springfield’s prohibition code of 1917, the neighborhood around Sangamon Avenue had 12 taverns that brought in roughly $5,000 per annum in revenue for the City of Springfield. Since alcohol sales were decidedly more lucrative than the sale of groceries alone, Kaston also applied for, and was granted, a liquor license. 

Kaston and Caroline Stockus, c. mid-1930s.with cow

In 1915, he married Karolina Compardo, the daughter of Wincenty ‘William’ and Sofia (Balis) Compardo [Komperda], a family from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Kaston and Karolina had a daughter, Ella (1916-2001), and a son, Raymond (1935-2016). The Stockus family lived with the Compardo family at 2129 North 16th Street. 

The United States’ entry into WWI aroused a spirit of patriotic fervor.  Many immigrants joined the military to speed-up the formalization of their petitions for citizenship.  Kaston registered with the military board of Sangamon County but was over the age to be called-up for regular conscription.  Instead of becoming a soldier, he became a home front hero during the Third Liberty Loan drive, when a group of foreign-born residents purchased $3,000 worth of government war bonds at a fundraising drive held by the “foreign-speaking people’s committee on liberty loan work.”

The Springfield committee gathered residents formerly of Lithuania, Austria, Germany, Croatia, Poland, Italy, and Syria.  Out of all the attendees at the loan rally, the Illinois State Register proclaimed, “the Lithuanian Kaston Stockus, Seventeenth and Sangamon [had] the largest purchase, taking a $500 bond.”  Such an amount was not only proof of his patriotism but testimony to his success as a grocer.  The newspaper also noted the event speakers included, “Rev. Father John Czuberkis of St. Vincent de Paul (Lithuanian Catholic) Church and Rev. Father Francis Mazir of St. Barbara’s (Slavic) Church.”  

In 1921, Kaston received a letter from his father in Lithuania pleading with him to return “home” for one last visit.  Lithuanian-Americans often received letters from family overseas asking them to return home after Lithuania’s declaration of independence in 1918.  Kaston’s letter from his father asked him, “If it is possible than [sic] I ask you to come home as my life is miserable.”  In addition, the letter asked Kaston not to send money to his family because it would make things “hard” for his father.  After receiving the letter, Kaston, his wife Karolina and their daughter Ella immediately sailed for Europe.

The Illinois State Journal featured an article about their voyage indicating the family had, “left town for New York City to visit friends and relatives in Antwerp, Belgium and Hamburg, Germany.”  While the article mentioned no travel to Lithuania, Kaston’s passport application (per archival research) indicates the family did visit Lithuania.  The family returned in September 1922 on the S.S. Berengaria, according to the Ellis Island’s website.  

In the 1930s, the Great Depression brought economic strife to the United States.  In Central Illinois, the Great Depression was also marked by violent labor unrest between the Progressive Miners of America and the United Mine Workers of America, culminating in pitched battles in the streets and mines. Kaston was effectively caught in the middle of a mine battle in March of 1933 when National Guard troops surrounded miners striking at the Peerless Mine (near Ridgely) and cut off Sangamon Avenue to patrons of his store.

Fairview Tavern Opening Aug. 1951, ISJ, Aug. 3, 51, P. 20

Illinois State Journal, 1951.

Storeowners all along the avenue protested to the Assistant Attorney General against the presence of the guardsmen. They said the troops “paralyzed their business between the hours of 3 and 6 o’clock each afternoon.”  Per newspaper accounts of the era, a committee of businessmen met and drafted a formal protest.  Kaston Stockus and Tony Yucus, a grocer at 1700 Sangamon Avenue, were part of the committee.  

Eventually, the route was re-opened and by the end of the 1930s, Illinois miners reached a tentative, statewide agreement to end the violence.  In 1939, Kaston’s daughter Ella married Alex Palusinski, a Polish-American, who clerked at the Stockus grocery.  After Kaston died in 1944, Alex opened a tavern inside the former grocery, calling it “Al and Joe’s.” By the time Kaston’s wife Karolina died in 1957, Alex had ownership of the building but leased the tavern to entrepreneurs.

During WWII, the tavern went through several names and in December 1945, an Italian immigrant named Vincent Nebuloni and his son-in-law Tony Stockus (no known relationship to Kaston), opened the “Jolly End Tavern” on the site. Tony Stockus was a WWII veteran who worked the coal mines in Springfield and was looking for a chance to get out of mining and make a better life for his family.

Tony Stockus WWII infantry sergeant.Mary Stockus Roach

Tony Stockus, WW II infantry sergeant. Courtesy of Mary (Stockus) Roach.

Stockus and Nebuloni operated the Jolly End until 1950 when a local resident named Louie Viele opened his own bar in the space and christened it, “The Fairview Tavern.” Viele maintained his operation until his uncle, Ercole “Bouser” Viele, acquired it in 1954. By the mid-1960s, Alex and Ella Palusinski took over and turned it into the long-celebrated Fairview Restaurant. After changing owners over the years, the Fairview ultimately closed around 2019.