CHICAGO — The Chicago retail market is more competitive than ever, with independents doing battle with major chains and more than holding their own.

“The Chicago market is so unique because the independent stores are so strong,” said Lisa Strube, director of finance at Strube Celery & Vegetable Co.

Chicago’s independent retailers are doing an effective job in delivering value and service to consumers, said Anton Marano, co-owner of Anthony Marano Co.

Marano said that independent retailers have become stringent receivers, a change from years past.

He said some of the more successful independent retailers include Pete’s Market, Mariano’s, Valli Produce, Shop & Save Supermarket, and Cermac Fresh Market.

While some chains such as Dominick’s have cut the number of their stores in the midst of the U.S. recession, Marano said independent retailers have held steady.

“Independents are maintaining store count, and maybe adding one here and there,” he said.

In general, Marano said independent retailers have stepped up their level of service, making sure shelves are stacked and customers are served.

Central Grocers buys for independents such as Shop and Save, Pete’s Markets and others.

“A lot of our stuff goes into Central and get distributed out from there,” said Ed Romanelli, vice president of sales and marketing with Agrow Fresh.

Independent retailers such as Pete’s Market, Tony’s Finer Foods and Shop & Save control much of Chicago while chain stores such as Jewel’s, Dominick’s and Meijer are stronger in the suburbs, said Nick Gaglione, president of Dietz & Kolodenko Co.

“Independents know what their community needs, while some of the chain stores put out a list saying we need this and this and this in the store,” he said.

Growth in retail purchases is coming from ethnic fruit stores, said Steve Chmelovsky, president and chief executive officer of Everyday Fresh Produce Inc.

Jewel Foods and Dominick’s seem to be downsizing, while independents keep adding stores, he said. Independents that had two to three stores 10 years ago may have 10-15 stores now, he said.

“Their biggest asset is they go right next to a chain store and undercut them in pricing,” he said.