Puerto Ricans honor hardware store owner who bridged racial divide

August 21, 2012

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Puerto Ricans are saluting the late owner of a Chicago hardware store who bridged racial divides and held his own against big-box retailers.
 
Stanley Kustra grew up in Humboldt Park in the 1960s — a time when that Northwest Side neighborhood still had a lot of Poles and many hardware stores.
 
Kustra, known as Stas, got his start at Joe’s Hardware, 2659 W. Division St., at age 10. In the early 1980s, he and one of his brothers bought the store from its aging owner. That was years after most whites had moved out of Humboldt Park and Puerto Ricans had moved in.
 
The neighborhood kept Joe’s alive, even as the likes of Home Depot killed off nearly every other Chicago hardware store.
 
Kustra gave back. He raised funds for Barreto Boys and Girls Club and a social-service agency called Casa Central. He donated hot chocolate, candy and toys for Puerto Rican events.
 
And he learned Spanish.
 
“You might call him a Polack-orican,” Kustra’s brother John laughed. “He had no Puerto Rican blood but he did like Puerto Rican food quite a lot.”
 
Kustra also served for years on the board of the Division Street Business Development Association, which tries to preserve the neighborhood’s Puerto Rican character. “He survived because he kept a relationship with the community over 30 years,” said Eduardo Arocho, the group’s executive director. “We loved him and he loved us.”
 
Kustra died in March after a stroke. He was 55.
 
On the block outside his store Tuesday, community leaders unveiled honorary street signs bearing his name.