Old Mill Grocery and Deli. / Photo by Thane Grauel
Old Mill Grocery and Deli / Photo by Thane Grauel

By Thane Grauel

WESTPORT — The nonprofit group that owns the Old Mill Grocery and Deli is seeking permission to serve alcohol.

The market at 222 Hillspoint Road, whose latest operator is Romanacci, is owned by Soundview Empowerment Alliance, Inc. That’s a nonprofit started by local people who wanted to keep the century-old corner store open after a previous incarnation, Elvira’s, went up for sale a few years ago.

Recent operators have had trouble turning a profit. Romanacci, which serves pizza and other meals throughout the day, has several locations around Fairfield County.

Land-use consultant Cindy Tyminski, on behalf of the owners, has filed a text amendment application with the Planning and Zoning Commission to change the town’s zoning regulations and allow retail food establishments in residential neighborhoods to sell alcohol.

According to the application, only two such establishments in Westport could benefit from the text amendment — Old Mill Market and The Porch, on Cross Highway, formerly known as Christie’s.

Retail food establishments seat 10 or fewer people, and are not deemed restaurants.

“These establishments, particularly those that service neighborhoods, have become increasingly popular since the shutdown and work from home culture that ensued, as they provide convenient access to their goods while creating a strong sense of community and connection with one’s neighbors,” a statement in the application reads.

“Unlike chain establishments, neighborhood Retail Food Establishments are often located within residential zones and primarily serve the needs of the local population,” it continued.

“The proprietors of Romanacci, the tenant/operators of the Property, have created a neighborhood market and eatery where one can grab a coffee and breakfast in the morning, have lunch and dinner, buy groceries and various convenience items, all which can be enjoyed either at the market, the beach, or at home,” the statement reads. “Their vision also includes the market being a place where people can enjoy a casual glass of wine or beer with their food, unwind, and socialize with neighbors.”

The applicant says the response from neighbors has been “overwhelmingly in favor of being able to purchase and consume alcohol on-premises.”

Romanacci's shrimp scampi over homemade pasta. / oldmillgrocery.com
Romanacci’s shrimp scampi over homemade pasta. / oldmillgrocery.com

“This is also true of SEA’s major donors, who are well aware that the sale of alcohol is critical to the survival of the market and the eatery as the prior two operators of the Property were unable to achieve profitably and were forced to abandon their efforts,” the application states. “Providing flexibility for the operators of historic properties in residential zones will ensure that these places will be able to continue to be strong threads in the fabric of our community. The preservation of this historic property, and SEA’s expanded mission of serving people with disabilities, hinges on the Property’s viability.”

Some town and regional agencies reported no concerns with the application.

The Aspetuck Health District said it had no concerns, as long as seating does not exceed 10 people.

The application does not yet appear on an agenda for the Planning and Zoning Commission, which has some hefty applications to sort out in the coming weeks.

Thane Grauel grew up in Westport and has been a journalist in Fairfield County and beyond for 36 years. Reach him at editor@westportjournal.com. Learn more about us here.