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Eagle soars from humble beginnings

MILAN -- Eagle Food Centers Inc., the Milan-based Midwest regional supermarket chain, can trace its roots to a general store in Davenport operated by a family of Russian immigrants.

In 1863, the Tenenboms carried fresh perishables, clothing, fabric and hardware -- similar to the back-to-basics theme of today's Eagle Country Markets. By the 1920s, Eagle's two forerunners featured fresh fruits and vegetables.

Eagle's, with 6,500 employees and 91 stores in eastern Iowa, northern and central Illinois and northwestern Indiana, is trying to develop a stronger market in the Chicago area. The company has hired a national advertising firm from Dallas to improve the image of its fresh produce section and boost sales.

The chain became a publicly-held corporation in 1989 and a strong community supporter. The company has struggled to turn a profit from time to time during this decade, until improvements under a sweeping reorganization turned the tide.

The company regrouped its senior management team, more than once, and trimmed its stores from 109 to 90, before opening its first new stores in three years last year.

The company seems poised to grow, despite fierce competition in some of its larger markets and an occassional earnings dip. The company posted its first quarterly loss last December after seven profitable quarters. Its fiscal year ended Jan. 31, and the results are due this February.

Problems associated with bringing on line its $14 million computer information ordering and pricing system and a 5.8 percent drop in same-store sales contributed to its $463,000 net loss in the 1997 third quarter, company officials said.

With the blessing of its principal investors group, Odyssey Partners of New York, Eagle's launched an aggressive $40 million capital development program last summer to build several new stores over the next three years.

Eagle's is the only union-represented food store chain in the Quad-Cities.

-- By Rita Pearson (February 2, 1998)

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