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Let Them Eat Chocolate Is One Sweet Polling Place

By Patty Wetli | March 17, 2014 11:35am
 Let Them Eat Chocolate wins votes as one of city's sweetest polling places.
A Win for Chocolate at the Polls
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BOWMANVILLE — All polling places were not created equal.

While most Chicagoans will head to a school or Park District fieldhouse to cast their vote in Tuesday's primary election, voters in the 23rd precinct in the 40th Ward get to fill out their ballots at Let Them Eat Chocolate, 5306 N. Damen Ave.

Those who've yet to decide between Republican gubernatorial candidates Bruce Rauner or Kirk Dillard can mull their options while sipping coffee and munching on truffles, sinking into a comfy leather armchair to pore over campaign literature.

Normally closed on Tuesdays, the shop will open its doors at 6 a.m. on Election Day. Based on past experience, owner Debra Gregory-Voss expects a handful of voters to turn up at that early hour, with a big rush from 7:30-8:45 a.m.

During major elections — with presidential or mayoral candidates on the ballot — as many as 200 voters have passed through the shop, said Gregory-Voss.

"I've gotten people that had never been in before or maybe they're new to the neighborhood and this is their first time voting," she said. "Then they become customers."

When she spoke with DNAinfo Chicago, Gregory-Voss had yet to decide on a reward for Tuesday's crop of dutiful citizens, but in previous elections, she's handed out free chocolates to anyone with a voting stub and $5 purchase.

Gregory-Voss opened Let Them Eat Chocolate in 2008 and was approached three years later about becoming a polling place.

Though the Illinois Election Code states that "in no case shall an election be held in any room used or occupied as a saloon, dramshop, bowling alley or as a place of resort for idlers and disreputable persons, billiard hall or in any room connected therewith by doors or hallways," residents of the 23rd precinct had been voting at Leadway Bar across the street from the chocolate shop.

"There were complaints," said Gregory-Voss.

With ground floor access to a public street, Let Them Eat Chocolate met the election code's standards and Gregory-Voss gladly accepted the responsibility.

Playing a role in the democratic process actually dovetails with her vision of the shop as a neighborhood hub, a holdover from the 20 years she spent in San Diego where she operated food co-ops and a non-profit restaurant.

"We lived in a different time," said Gregory-Voss, who grew up on the North Side and now calls Budlong Woods home.

One of the many changes she made to the storefront when she moved in was to add a performance space, where she's since hosted musicians, comedians, poetry readings, craft fairs and plays.

It's a far cry from the medicinal herb shop Gregory-Voss initially intended to open.

"I starting looking at the business plan and commercial appeal," she said. "It occurred to me — chocolate is medicinal."

Folks outside the 23rd precinct are welcome at Let Them Eat Chocolate on Tuesday. The next event scheduled at the shop is "Comedy Over Coffee," 7 p.m., Saturday.