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Cash Register company closes doors after 120 years in Chicago

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An antique cash register from a hotel bar at the A.J. Thomas Midwest Cash Register Company in Chicago’s West Loop. (Tricia Bobeda/WBEZ)

After 120 years in business, the A.J. Thomas Midwest Cash Register Company in Chicago’s West Loop is closing.

The small business has been at the heart of Chicago retail for more than a century.

A.J. Thomas sold and serviced cash registers for restaurants, bars and stores around the city.

By now, most businesses have swapped gleaming brass registers for computers.

Owner Dorothea Alfini's family is only the third to run the business since 1892. They've moved storefronts a couple of times over the last century, but never strayed from the West Loop.

The company kept up with technology - they sold electronic Point-of-Sale systems too. Those customers will merge with a company in Indiana, and Alfini said she'll still be part of the business.

After 120 years in business, the A.J. Thomas Midwest Cash Register Company in Chicago’s West Loop is closing. (Tricia Bobeda/WBEZ)
But it's the end of the line for the mechanical and antique cash registers the company sold.

Alfini decided it was time to ease toward retirement after her husband passed away last year. He started in the cash register business when he was 12. She worked alongside him for more than four decades.

Her one remaining employee, age 75, is retiring too. She said he's about the only one left who knows how to fix the old registers if they break.

“It’s a dying art because within a few years they’re going to be gone," she said about the antique registers.

The storefront and warehouse on Randolph Street is having an everything must go sale. Thousands of antique cash registers, tools and parts for sale. And just about anything they can pry off the walls, if someone wants it.

After 120 years in business, the A.J. Thomas Midwest Cash Register Company in Chicago’s West Loop is closing. (Tricia Bobeda/WBEZ)

Alfini said the neighborhood has changed as much as the business.

“You just look out the window," Alfini said. "What used to be a run down bar is now a condo building. What they used to call the Madison Street bums - they’re all gone.”

Just next door, a new restaurant and winery has opened up. Down the street, fancy coffee shops flank both corners.

And she said their name - Alfini - is fitting for the moment.

“It means the end," she said. "That’s what the last name means. So yeah, I’m the end of this whole thing.”

 

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