LINCOLN PARK — An alderman held a community meeting on a new liquor license Tuesday and a love fest broke out.
Deli Boutique, 2318 N. Clark St., was recently informed by city officials that, with liquor sales having outpaced sandwich sales in the slender storefront, it would need new zoning and a new liquor license to allow for beer, wine and liquor to be the principal and not incidental source of income, attorney Mark Burkland said.
Burkland told a few dozen people at a community meeting Tuesday evening that the owners had immediately undertaken what he called the complex and "scary" process of getting the zoning changed for the address, a special-use permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals and finally a new liquor license.
Burkland said the quantity of sandwiches and bottles sold might have been pretty close at the deli, but with some single-malt Scotches selling at $80 a bottle, "The quicker way to do it is just to charge $65 a sandwich."
That not being a profitable option, Deli Boutique pursued the new liquor license and threw itself on the mercy of local residents Tuesday evening in a community meeting just around the corner from the store at Cenacle Convent, 513 W. Fullerton Parkway. Community meetings on liquor licenses are often contentious affairs dominated by Not-In-My-Back-Yard types, but in this case almost to a person everyone rose to defend and support the deli.
"We don't have anything else like this," said Beverly Monahan, a local resident of almost 20 years. "We'd be heartbroken" if it were lost.
Saying she wanted to "maintain merchants in this area that are contributors," Monahan cited the frequent turnover in Clark Street storefronts, adding, "Vacancies lead to crime."
Others echoed that point and mentioned the store's quality of both food and alcohol and its "European feel." Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) said it wasn't about to convert the area into tavernous Wrigleyville, and others said it was a large step up from the new local Dunkin' Donuts franchise as well.
"The deli's not the revenue-generating source of their business," Burkland granted. "It is still, however, a seven-day-a-week deli. They want it to stay that way."
Burkland touted the endorsement of the Mid-North Association, and Smith clarified that that was with a "plan of operation" that would be part of the liquor license and would specify that the deli couldn't let liquor sales run rampant. It could also specify that the zoning would revert to its original state if the business were sold.
While Burkland said the shop would have to make allowances for that "contingency," it seemed to be headed for an agreement.
Smith made it clear that "we've gotten some emails that are against it," but said she would support it "if the community wants this to go forward." She urged residents to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to weigh in.
Voula Theofilatos, who has owned the deli with her husband, Chris, for a little more than three years, was clearly gratified with the show of support.
"I want to thank all the customers who support us, every day, every week," she said. "We have all these lovely customers, and they embraced us, and we embraced them."