First reported 1/5/2010 8:54 a.m.

By the end of this week, 122 N. Marion St. – shop space that had been empty for two years after Abrahamson’s Furriers closed – will be empty again.

Lido’s Caffe, the 17-month-old espresso bar, sandwich shop and gelato parlor in downtown Oak Park, is closing – mostly likely by Friday, its eponym told Wednesday Journal Monday night.

“Over the weekend, we made the decision,” Lido Petrucci said, referring to the latest reality check with his two business partners, Jan Louis and Louise Mihalik. “We said, ‘That’s it. It’s time to just give it up.'”

The three friends, who have been rotating shifts for the seven-day-a-week business since the shop opened in August 2008, have all said on separate occasions that their timing to invest in a place for their retirement couldn’t have been worse.

“One month, you’re putting in four thousand. Then the next month, you’re putting in another two or three thousand. It adds up fast,” Petrucci said Monday night.

Broadsided at the outset

An allowance of a few years of cash shortages was in their plans. But the economy’s steep decline wasn’t on their radar. Nor was the loss of a major safety net, news that was even more wounding, according to Petrucci. In November 2008, three months after the shop opened, Petrucci was let go of the job he’d had for decades.

“I was with them for 40 years,” he said of a car dealership. “They tell you you’re like family, you’re going to retire from here. I was 59 years old when we got into this. The plan was to start a little business, grow it and have it to sit back with when I got to retirement.”

But the space for the business was not so little: 2,400 square feet. And the start-up costs in space that needed major structural work were substantial. According to village records, Lido’s overhaul of the space that for more than half a century housed Abrahamson’s cost at least $115,000 – $35,000 of which was covered by an interior-rehab grant from the village. Petrucci estimates detail work beyond the build-out plans at another $100,000.

He estimates the average sales ticket at $8.50. “It takes selling a whole lot of cups of Lavazza to pay the rent here.”

Telling the regulars

Petrucci said he told their landlord, Anthony Shaker of Shaker Management, on Monday morning that they had to draw the line. Throughout the day, he said, he told his staff of four. As regular customers came in for their usuals, he started breaking the news to them, too.

“It hurts to see the same people coming in every day and then to look at them and think you’re kind of letting them down,” said the man who maintained a community photo board at the front of the shop. “We have regulars who come in three or four times a day. We just don’t have enough of them.”

Many of the regulars, for whom the Cheers-like hospitality at Lido’s inspired a cheerleader vibe, had also been buying gift certificates all along. “I feel bad for people who enjoyed coming here. I want you to tell people to make sure, if they’ve got gift certificates, to stop by right away and get reimbursed.”

The Nicholas Award

The investment that Petrucci and Mihalik, a Berwyn couple, and Louis, a Chicago resident, made in Oak Park was recognized last February when the Oak Park Development Corporation named Lido’s Caffe among its 15 recipients of the Nicholas Award in 2008.

The prestigious award is given annually to business owners seen as having made significant commitments to the economic well-being of the community. “The décor recalls Italy in design and taste. … A welcome addition to N. Marion Street,” the Nicholas notice said of Lido’s.

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