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Is Kaufman's Deli Moving Out of Skokie?

Bette Dworkin, the latest in her family to run the legendary deli, is trying to buy the property and re-open after flirting with moving both in and out of Skokie. The business owner also added her love for her current location.

After a Nov. 6 fire shuttered its longtime Skokie store, Kaufman’s Deli looked at the old Barnum & Bagel site two blocks east and a 9,000-square foot property one mile west in Morton Grove as possible locations in which to re-open.

Ultimately, the cost of fixing the long-closed Barnum and & Bagel building and too much space in the Morton Grove storefront for her needs led Kaufman’s president Bette Dworkin back to her original building at 4905 W. Dempster. After renting since 1984, she’s trying to purchase the building in advance of the lease expiration date in August.

Installing bathrooms for each gender leads the required list of internal construction projects required if  Dworkin can complete the sale process. The earliest she projected re-opening is May.

Dworkin would not reveal her Plan B – a possible move elsewhere – if negotiations to buy the property break down. For now, she’s optimistic, affixing signs to the boarded-up store that read “We Will Be Re-Opening As Soon As Possible” and “Wait ‘Til You See What’s Coming.”

Some 30 employees depended on Kaufman’s for their livelihood. Several are still working for Dworkin at an alternate site making bagels as a wholesaler for the Jewel on Skokie Boulevard and Mariano’s Markets.  In the meantime, the deli owner found temporary jobs for some, while others are out in the job market.

Kaufman’s office temporarily in Sinbad’s basement

The second-generation family member running Kaufman’s in Skokie, Dworkin is now operating out of a temporary office in the basement of the neighboring Sinbad’s Persian rug outlet, which opened just a month prior to the fire.

Dworkin said her family has made previous attempts to buy the property.

“We’re close,” she said, then pausing in her comments. “The building is held by a trust set up by the original owner. I’m talking with the trust’s attorney.”

Ownership of the property is a must, she said, in complying with village construction regulations, including installation of public bathrooms, that were not required due to the grandfathered status of Kaufman’s prior to the fire.

“There are issues with what the village is asking be done in the building,” she said. “It would be very difficult to accomplish all of that as tenants.”

In issuing construction permits, Dworkin said Skokie officials told her they would do everything they could to push forward the process. The village also could offer Dworkin up to $150,000 in TIF (tax-increment financing) money for exterior, parking-lot and signage improvements since the structure is a stand-alone building, said Tom Thompson, Skokie’s economic development coordinator.

Dworkin also has insurance and financing issues with which to deal, although she said her banks have been “amenable…they’ve said they’d love to do this deal.”

Village asked Kaufman’s to consider Barnum & Bagel property

Skokie’ economic development department asked Dworkin to check out the Barnum & Bagel property, which has been vacant for four years. Managing company Terraco is advertising a “drastic” reduction, from $2.6 million to $1,999,000, for the sale of the property, which also is available for lease.  Terraco president Scott Gendell suggested Kaufman’s could expand its business to a sit-down, lunch trade with the increased space available in the property.

“Kaufman’s is a Skokie institution,” said Thompson. “We would very, very much like her to stay on West Dempster or somewhere in town. If there’s any space that fits the general parameters, with adequate parking, we’d help her. There was nothing in particular about Barnum & Bagel other than it was a vacant restaurant.”

Dworkin asked Thompson, along with Nate Kriska, manager of building inspections, and Bruce Jones, manager of the environmental health department, to accompany her on the visit to the Barnum and Bagel site.  She also paid a second visit.

“I asked that the building and health departments to join us, to give us feedback on what was salvageable and what was not,” Dworkin said. “It would have been an item-by-item decision.

“What held us back was there was an enormous amount of work required (to fix up the property).” One Terraco leasing agent estimated the cost last September at $700,000. “At a minimum,” Dworkin replied.  “I know there are some TIF (tax-increment financing) funds available, but I don’t know if there are TIF funds coming anywhere near the investment required.”

Dworkin considered Barnum & Bagel with an open mind. “It was not an immediate no,” she said. “We thought it through. It has to be completely gutted.”

Morton Grove site considered too big

Dworkin confirmed a rumor that circulated in the weeks after the fire that she considered moving to Morton Grove. The location under consideration was a vacant store on the southeast corner of Dempster Street and Major Avenue.

“It’s a beautiful space with a magnificent ceiling - a vaulted ceiling that I loved,” she said. “We did have some initial sketches done. But the space is really way too big for us and doesn’t lend itself to be self-divided. The drawings we did, we would have been able to put 50 seats in there.

“Our concern was that it would not allow us to have that community, intimate feel. We sometimes feel cramped in our store, but there is something about going into Kaufman’s and running into people you haven’t seen for years. I don’t know if that was re-creatable in Morton Grove in that space.”

Dworkin looked at even more available spaces. An associate also suggested the former home of Produce World on the northwest corner of Dempster and Waukegan Road. But that location was deemed too far west of Kaufman’s old stomping grounds. “People are used to Kaufman’s being in Skokie,” she said.

Kaufman’s long-established presence as the anchor of the otherwise-troubled West Dempster business district was the major reason Anosh Bolbolan opened Sinbad’s two doors away, with the Papa John’s pizza outlet in between him and Kaufman’s. Bolbolan misses the spillover business from Kaufman’s.

“I used to get four or five people a day walking in after they went to Kaufman’s,” Bolbolan said. “You could tell they were a potential buyer. She was a good draw.”

Bolbolan agreed Kaufman’s would suffer if it moved away from its present location – not to mention the long-term effect on businesses such as his own.

“Whenever you move a business, a rule of thumb is you lose 25 percent,” he said.

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Naj February 14, 2012 at 05:15 PM
While I have not lived in Skokie for 35 years, I do come in every year from San Francisco to visit, Kaufman's and the building are iconic to Skokie. I would love to see that every thing to stay in the original location is done before considering a move elsewhere, but PLEASE not out of Skokie.
rzdw92 February 14, 2012 at 06:28 PM
Nice article. A lot of us local residents/patrons have been wondering what's been going on. Thanks for the update.
Jo Anne Masterson February 14, 2012 at 07:56 PM
Even before the fire, I always thought Barnum and Bagel would be a wonderful place to move to. While I love Kaufman's, there were times when I couldn't get in the door because of the people waiting in line. Either way, hurry up and reopen. I miss you!
David Zornig February 14, 2012 at 09:28 PM
Why isn't the Village of Skokie offering up one of the vacant lots along Dempster, that they purchased a few years ago? It would get the ball rolling that much faster, and put at least one of those properties back on the tax rolls. Otherwise it will be years before Skokie can ever get any sort of value back for their investment. Kaufman's would remain on Dempster, and could create their own usable layout with adequate parking. And forgo the retrofitting of the damaged space, and bypass whatever issues the Trust is having with selling to them. They bent over backwards for Oberweis. Why not for an already established institution? Would the same TIF's not apply?

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