Updates to Area Best Buy Stores

Best Buy has dumped $20 million into its 43 Chicago-area stores this year, giving an overdue face-life to one of its oldest markets and adding several new features, such as high-end appliances and professional-grade cameras, that the electronic giant hopes help it stay relevant amid stiff competition.

Best Buy, the nation’s largest consumer electronics retailer with more than 1,000 stores, is in the midst of a plan to tackle declining sales and shrinking profit margins. The retailer plans to reduce costs, improve supply chain efficiencies, and ramp up the in-store experience to give shoppers a reason to shop at Best Buy instead of Wal-Mart, Amazon.com or tech stores such as Apple or AT&T.

According to the company, the Chicago market, which represented Best Buy’s first expansion into a major metro area in the early 1990s and has one of the retailer’s densest store counts in the country, is the only one to have all of its stores remodeled. With the retailer focused for many years on expansion, some Chicago stores still had their original 1990s fixtures.

But new carpet and brighter lighting aren’t the only changes.

To entice shoppers, stores in Lincoln Park and Orland Park became the first in the country to feature 6-foot-by-8-foot Samsung Center Stage touch screens where shoppers can pull up specs and test washing machines and refrigerators against different decor, swiping images on the digital screen much like a CNN anchor on election night.

In addition, Best Buy in summer debuted premium brands at new Pacific Home and Kitchen stores inside Chicago-area Best Buys in Downers Grove, Joliet, Schaumburg, Aurora, Vernon Hills and Bloomingdale, for the first time offering products from Wolf, Viking and Bosch. Best Buy, which bought California appliance retailer Pacific Sales in 2005, has 120 in-store Pacific Home locations nationwide that sell high-end appliance brands and offer custom kitchen design.

Best Buy is trying to position itself as a premium seller in several areas. It is expanding its Magnolia Design Centers in its stores in Downers Grove, Schaumburg and Bucktown, which offer high-end entertainment brands and custom home theater design and installation.

It has added Camera Experience Shops to stores in Downers Grove and Schaumburg among 36 nationwide, where it offers almost triple its regular assortment of cameras, including dozens of high-end digital SLR lenses, aiming to cater to photography fans or professionals left in a lurch as many dedicated camera stores across the country have closed.

A Walker Sands survey, which looks into the future of retail, stated that 69 percent of shoppers say they buy their consumer electronics online, more than any other category.

Sales of CDs and DVDs, once Best Buy’s bread and butter, have started diminishing as many people buy their music and movies digitally, the retailer has had to explore other avenues for growth. Revenue was $8.9 billion in the most recent quarter, down 4 percent from a year earlier, while net income, at $145 million, was down from $266 million a year earlier, though much of last year’s profit stemmed from a legal settlement. Sales at stores open at least a year were down 2 percent, in line with industry declines.

A Turn Against Roommates

Ex-convict Jordan Dingillo, 23, was charged with armed robbery and aggravated battery. Dingillo is the alleged leader of a series of housebreakers. He pulled a pregnant Joliet teen out of bed and tied her up then hit her boyfriend with his gun and robbed him. The warrant for Dingillo’s arrest carries a $750,000 bond. The attack took place on October 6 in a Castle Ridge Drive home where Dingillo led three others into the bedroom. The pregnant 18-year-old, Maribel Alvarex, identified Dingillo as the leader of the group.

Days after the attack Alvarez and her boyfriend Norman Toscano, 26, requested a court order but were denied by Will County Judge Marilee Viola. According to Alvarez, she was able to identify Dingillo because he was living with her and Toscano. Toscano told police that besides being beaten with the gun, he was also stabbed in the shoulder with a screwdriver. After stealing their jewelry and $10,000 from Toscano’s safe, Dingillo and the three others left.

The day after the attack, a 17-year-old boy who remains unidentified was arrested and charged as a juvenile with residential burglary, aggravated battery, forgery, possession of cannabis and obstructing a peace offer. No one else has been arrested.

Church of St. Anthony

“I came to serve you, but we cannot stay here in this condition,” said Rev. Michael Valente in 1974 when he returned to the Church of St. Anthony, at 100 Scott St. in Joliet. Valente was shocked to see pieces of the ceiling were breaking off. “I thought, ‘My God, this is plaster. This will hurt these people,’” Valente said. “They had been given the opportunity to sell the building to the bank next door, which was making offers, but they insisted, ‘No, we want to stay here. We want to repair it.’”

The Church of St. Anthony in downtown is the spiritual home to Italian Catholics. Despite its rough appearance, Valente is very proud to show its emergence. He executed many of the changes happening and has a vision for the future of this parish.

The stone building, formerly owned by First Baptist of Joliet, was built in 1858 for $8,000 Valente said. In 1902, 17 Italian families each pledged $1,000 and eventually bought the building for $14,000, he said. “We had been guests in the basement of St. Mary Carmelite,” Valente said. “When we outgrew the basement, we had to buy our own building.”

The building that became the Church of St. Anthony, Valente said, was a solid, two-story structure – church on top, basement underneath, which was typical of practical Protestant construction of that time, he added. “We never had a school, so we never needed anything more as far as land,” Valente said.

In 1922, the church bought 10 stained glass windows from a company in Munich, Germany, which is still in existence, Valente said. He estimates the worth today of those windows is $100,000 each. The windows tell the story of St. Anthony of Padua, whom Valente called a great scholar and preacher. “He was a brilliant man, and that is why he became such a marvelous converter of people that had lost their faith,” Valente said. At some point, in an attempt to beautify the church and bestow a modern look, the parishioners – who were simple workers – covered the exterior in stucco to hide the stone, Valente said. “It was very humble stone, as far as limestone goes,” Valente said. “It was not cut. It was slab.”

Valente had served the Church of St. Anthony once before in 1958. He was an associate priest and stayed six years before being transferred to another Parish. By 1974, Valente returned to St. Anthony as its pastor. By then, the stucco was falling apart he said.

Valente’s first move was to gut the interior, new pews, plaster walls, and carpet. The plaster statues were also deteriorating and replaced by wood sculptures. Next, Valente began work on the exterior making it more architecturally appealing and safe. Valente and the parishioners agreed on a Williamsburg appearance and veneer brick.

“We did it with volunteers and love and labor and gifts,” Valente said. “The people decided amongst themselves to donate $100 per family. We never had any debt on the whole thing.”

But some parishioners did more, Valente said. For example, one member paid for a new steeple – including the cost of removing the former handmade wood one, Valente said. Another bought the four pillars at its entrance and dedicated them to his grandparents. A third donated the concrete for the church, the garage and the rectory. Another laid the bricks, handmade in South Carolina, Valente said.

“They looked very appropriate for the age of the structure,” Valente said. “They were oversized bricks and had the right color and all that.”

Valente retired in 2001. He returned to the Church of St. Anthony in 2011 as an administrator. The building once again needed work, $40,000 worth of repairs to plumbing, windows, the Muller organ as well as painting. But it’s not just the building that’s undergone change. Membership has dropped from 1,400 to 200 since 1998, although the church still attracts new members, Valente said. Although the church will eventually need a new roof, it doesn’t need much else, he said. “We’re still functioning and viable,” Valente said.

Valente has intentions to leave the parish for good in June. He hopes that by the presence of the University of St. Francis and Joliet Junior College in the downtown area, colleges students will discover this historical parish and use it for their spiritual growth.

“I want to put this church on the map with its great legacy,” Valente said. “It has become a beautiful structure.”