Ross Cosmetics was closed for Independence Day on July 4, 2022.
But, as any business owner knows, being closed to the public doesn’t mean there still isn’t work to be done. So Earl Edelcup, who owned the Highland Park variety store with his wife, Arden, thought he’d go in to the small, windowless office tucked behind a gray curtain in the back of the store and get some paperwork done.
About the same time that Edelcup was driving from his home in Highwood, authorities say Bobby Crimo, 22, later told them he was taking up his position on the roof of one-story Ross Cosmetics.
News accounts described what Crimo went up as a fire-escape ladder. But it really is a sturdy, steel-and-concrete stairway to the second-floor apartments around the back of the buildings at Second Street and Central Avenue. The police say he was carrying a Smith & Wesson M&P15 semiautomatic rifle, one of five guns he owned, and three 30-round magazine clips.
The Highland Park 4th of July parade began at 10 a.m., half an hour after the children’s and pet parade. The police say Crimo started shooting at paradegoers from above Ross Cosmetics at 10:14 a.m., firing 83 shots in quick bursts, leaving five dead, two dying and dozens wounded.
Just after the shooting stopped and the man who fired on the crowd descended the stairs, Earl Edelcup showed up.
Routine can put blinders on anybody, and Edelcup, 59, had worked at Ross since he was 12. He didn’t hear any shots or sirens or take note of the eerily empty street, cluttered with baby strollers. He didn’t see the bodies.
He had no idea anything unusual had happened until he stood at the front door and began to insert his key.
“What are you doing?” someone, running past him, shouted.
“I’m just going in to work,” Edelcup replied, puzzled.
The person kept running.
That gave him pause. Edelcup turned, looked around and saw a police officer who asked him if he owned this business. Earl said he did.
“Is this safe?” Edelcup asked. “Should I be here?”
But the cop was gone.
Edelcup didn’t go in. He got back in his car and called his wife.
“I married into the business,” Arden Edelcup says. “We really are just four walls, consistently changing our mix of merchandise based on our customers’ need. When I took over, we were selling, believe it or not, perfumes and canned hams. We sold cigarettes. We had film processing. My father-in-law and Earl took gas bills here. We made keys. Thirty years later, it’s the same four walls. Of course, we don’t make keys. Of course, we don’t take bills. Everything has changed. We’re four walls that adapt to the community.”
But how can a store adapt to a community that finds itself at the center of an atrocity?
One that stood out from other, increasingly commonplace American mass shootings because it was at a Fourth of July parade. Because it was in a placid, upscale Chicago suburb. Because seven people died, ranging from 35 to 88 years old, including parents who shielded their 2-year-old. Because of the grievous injuries, including 8-year-old Cooper Roberts, whose spine was severed, leaving him a paraplegic.
How does a store selling facial cream, mahjong pads and customized dog kerchiefs adapt to that? And not just any store. Opened in 1965, it’s the oldest retail business in Highland Park.
“Ross’s is more than a corner store known for unique cosmetics, fashion and related items,” says Nancy Rotering, the mayor of Highland Park. “It’s a destination for so many, where we come for the product and stay for the friendly conversation.”
Where a clerk might ask a young customer making a purchase, “Is it OK with your mom?” Where, before cellphones, parents would call and ask if their kids were there. Ross is also inviting to any ambitious mom or industrious kid with a craft to market — custom stationery for kids writing home from popular summer camps like Chippewa and Greenwoods and Timberlane.
Having survived two years of COVID-19, the heart of the community was now the epicenter of tragedy.
The store closed for a week. The FBI cut up part of its roof to preserve the crime scene, leaving Ross Cosmetics with a big hole to go along with the one in Highland Park’s heart.
The Edelcups’ was far easier to fix, and the process hints at how the community would grope its way forward. Ross Cosmetics hired S.N. Kimbrel Roofing to repair the roof. The work was done, but no bill ever arrived.
Earl Edelcup called the roofing company and told them: Insurance covers this. Send a bill. But no bill came.
“Everybody pretty much knows everybody else,” says Scott Kimbrel, who lives in Lake Forest, noting that Crimo was arrested nearby. “They caught him a mile away from our home. It just hit home. It affected everybody. I felt it was our contribution to the community.”
When it came time to reopen, the Edelcups weren’t sure how Highland Park would react to the store that had been the shooter’s perch. Would customers blame them? Shun them?
That didn’t happen. Instead, they had their busiest day ever.
“The day we reopened, the lines were out the door,” Arden Edelcup says. “People were buying anything. They didn’t care if they had to stand in line for two hours. They were heartbroken for what happened and heartbroken that it was here.”
“There’s a lot of things we will never, ever forget,” Earl Edelcup says. “The community stood behind us, behind each other. They reached out. They were shopping. They were supportive.”
Customers walked in crying, with stories to share. Some had been across the street but came over to be under Ross’ canopy. Which protected them from the sun. And from the bullets, since the shooter was on the roof. The store saved their lives.
“Like it was a therapy session,” Arden Edelcup says. “For months and months, there would be people standing here, sobbing. The PTSD was crippling. We’d stop what we were doing and talk. We see about 100 customers a day, and 25% were traumatized. Everyone walking around, wanting to grab each other. Nobody could believe it happened here. Even almost a year later.”
Earl Edelcup went to high school with Crimo’s father, who ran for mayor of Highland Park in 2019 and who has been charged with seven counts of reckless conduct for helping his son get the gun.
“It was so interconnected,” Arden Edelcup says. “It wasn’t an outside person.”
The Edelcups had been thinking for years about selling the store and finally decided they would.
“It was time,” Earl Edelcup says. “Working retail, working every weekend, we don’t get an awful lot of chance to go on a lot of vacations.”
“We were worn out,” his wife says.
But COVID delayed their plans.
“Who is going to want to buy a retail store during the pandemic?” Earl Edelcup says. “So we waited for that. Finally, the time was really right. We had the right buyer right away.”
But the shooting gave the buyer — “a big, huge corporation,” in Arden Edelcup’s words — cold feet.
“When the rubber hit the road, they got very nervous,” she says, and backed out.
A young couple, Regina and Matt Chesney, had expressed interest. The Edelcups reached out to them.
“We always wanted to own a business,” Regina Chesney says. “We loved the concept. We loved the community. We loved the main street.
“It’s like a small town. Everybody knows everybody. We liked the Edelcups, their concept with the store, supporting local business women. Their salon. The camp supplies. This community.”
But their advisers worried about the potential lasting impact of the shooting.
“Our legal counsel said, ‘Do you understand what this could do? There’s potential, there could be possible liability,’ ” Chesney says. “Customers — will they stop shopping here when the ownership changes? Will they stop shopping here once the anniversary comes up and all those emotions come up? We were counseled there could be financial risk with taking over the store because of that.”
The Chesneys bought Ross Cosmetics anyway in late April.
“First finding out, that burst of emotion, remember when we found out,” Regina Chesney says. “The sorrow. The pain. This was the building. This was the building, but it doesn’t define the store. It doesn’t define the community.”
“This girl is a badass,” Arden Edelcup says. “This was not easy in a lot of ways. This is a pivotal time — for this store, for this community and everything that went on. And she was like: ‘I’m good. I got this.’ ”
“We weren’t afraid of it,” Chesney says. “We were perfectly OK with just moving forward. We didn’t hesitate.”
Crimo is in jail, held without bail, awaiting his next hearing in September, when a trial date might be set.
There is no Fourth of July parade in Highland Park this year. Instead, the city is planning a remembrance ceremony, a community walk and picnic. Gary Sinise and his Lt. Dan Band will play a concert.
Ross Cosmetics will again be closed for the holiday. But it will be open for business the next day, now under new management.