Tuesday, May 22, 2018 || By Igor Studenkov || @maywoodnews
Featured image: The former Bellwood Chinese Restaurant, which could soon be home to a Lucky Bernie’s deli. | Google Earth
A former Chinese restaurant at 1111 Bellwood Ave. in Bellwood will soon house a deli that will also feature Shee Goo rolled ice cream, a wide selection of wines, craft beers and video gambling. But the video gambling and, to a lesser extent, the alcohol have some residents worried.
During a May 17 regular Board of Trustees meeting, some people argued that the area where the deli, called Lucky Bernie’s, is looking to locate already has problems with loitering, drinking and violence that might be exacerbated by an establishment that sells liquor and gambling.
Lucky Bernie’s has at least four other locations in the Chicago suburbs that offer custom-made sandwiches. Peter Tsiolis, Bellwood’s economic development director, said in a May 21 interview that while video gambling machines are part of the business plan, Lucky’s main focus is on the deli aspect.
“The gaming portion of it is secondary,” said Tsiolis. “It’s a not a driving force, it’s not the important part.”
Tsiolis said that he and Bellwood Mayor Andre Harvey took a trip to a Lucky Bernie’s location in Huntley as part of conducting due diligence research into the business.
“When we walked into the Huntley location, not one persona was playing video poker,” Tsiolis said. “People were eating sandwiches. We sat around, we visited, we looked — you’d think you were at a Potbelly’s.”
But despite the arguments of village officials, some residents still expressed reservations about the establishment, concerned that it might worsen living conditions in the neighborhood.
A Lucky Bernie’s location in Spring Grove. | Lucky Bernie’s
“Right now, there’s a lot of riffraff and we don’t want more riffraff coming in,” said Bellwood resident Charmaine O’Reilly, who lives across the street from the proposed establishment.
Carolyn Winston, who said she’s lived in the neighborhood for 20 years, echoed O’Reilly’s point.
“I don’t come out at night, because I don’t want to be hit on the head,” she said. “I don’t want to see grown men and women standing outside my door smoking.”
April O’Banner, who is blind and lives directly across the the street from the space, said that she had no problem with the building’s old tenant, Bellwood Chinese Restaurant, but worries about a business with video gambling, particularly given her disability.
“We’re trying to be proactive and not reactive, and you say, ‘Wait and see,’” O’Banner said.
Harvey, however, tried calming residents’ fears, arguing that some of their claims about Lucky Bernie being a potential threat to their quality of life were not rooted in reality.
“They do more deli and family-oriented business than anything else,” he said. “They’re not the type of establishment that people are trying to portray them as.”
The village’s attorney, Michael Castaldo, added that Lucky Bernie’s was responsive to some concerns about hours of operation that were expressed by residents during a zoning board meeting. Castaldo said that the owners agreed to move the store’s closing time from midnight to 10:00 p.m.
The board voted unanimously at last week’s regular meeting to exempt Luck Bernie’s from a rule requiring restaurants to have at least five parking spaces. That was the last remaining legal hurdle for the establishment to clear before opening.
A timeline for when the restaurant would start doing business wasn’t provided at last week’s meeting. Meanwhile, village officials said they hope residents understand that they don’t have as much to fear as some may think.
“Bellwood already has these establishments and none of them have been a problem,” Tsiolis said on Monday.
“It’s very important for residents to understand that the mayor would never [agree to this if this was only about video gaming],” Tsiolis added. “The mayor wanted to bring in something that adds value, and he believes that the sandwiches and the ice cream will do it.” VFP
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