Sunday, May 14, 2006

The 47th Street Goddess

With her wildly printed silk ensembles, strappy high heels, and blonde coiffure, Hedy Ratner has come a long way from the 12-year-old girl who once worked at her family grocery store at 227 E. 47th St. in Chicago’s Kenwood neighborhood.

The muscles Hedy is flouting in a recent photo taken at the old location, first sprouted in the 1940s when Hedy helped her dad Joe and mom Rose in the store. “Unloading daily deliveries of meat and produce from vendors’ trucks,” Hedy claims was the regular exercise responsible for birthing those biceps.

“My dad was proud of those muscles,” Hedy recalled. “He bragged about them to all of our customers.” The Ratners held onto Joe’s Grocery for more than a decade until supermarkets (the same culprit responsible for the demise of my family store) invaded the neighborhood.

Hedy, 65, is now co-president of the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC), which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. She says her entrepreneurial spirit was first sparked at Joe’s Grocery, and by her dad’s memorable words, “I’d rather clean toilets than work for someone else.”

While on tour of Hedy’s old neighborhood, we stopped in at Palace Loan Co. where Hedy was delighted to find her old pal and fellow South Shore high school alum, Dave Lowis, manning the counter. Founded in 1918, the Lowis family has operated this shop that Hedy retreated to when things got boring at her grocery store across the street.

Hedy and I first met in 1980 when I was a press aide for Mayor Jane Byrne and Hedy was trying to get the City interested in her film studio project (that’s a whole other story). I was immediately dazzled, we became fast friends, she became a quasi role model for my brazen daughters Faith and Jill, and I have acted as occasional writer (most recently, the 20th Anniversary and 2005 Annual Report) and P.R. consultant to the WBDC.

The coincidence of both of us being grocery store kinderlach only makes our longtime friendship absolutely natural and enduring.

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