September 29, 2020

Essex Zoning Commission Approves Centerbrook Cheese Shop

ESSEX— The zoning commission Monday approved a special permit for a cheese shop in the vacant space at 31-33 Main Street in the Centerbrook section.

The panel acted after a public hearing where the proposed use drew no opposition, and statements of support from three residents. The shop will open in space formerly occupied by Centerbrook Package Store. The package store relocated about two years ago to the adjoining space formerly occupied by Doane’s Pharmacy, leaving its previous space in the small plaza vacant.

The commission agreed to a request from the applicant, Paul Partica of Old Saybrook, to consider the application as a straight retail use, rather than a grocery/food service use that has more stringent requirements for parking. Robert Doane, a local engineer representing the applicant, said parking at the commercial complex had been non-conforming for decades, though a large off street parking area in back of the complex provides adequate parking for customers. The complex currently houses the package store and Debbie’s Restaurant, which is open daily for breakfast and lunch but offers dinner only two nights per week.

Doane and the property owner, John Weinstein of Cheshire, said the peak business hours for the cheese shop and the package store would be different from the peak business hours for the restaurant. Doane and Robert Grillo, owner of the package store, said the complex has been less busy since the pharmacy closed more than three years ago.

Partica said the shop would be open five or six days each week from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. It would offer gourmet cheeses, coffees, and some speciality food items. He said customers would be “in and out”, with no cooking and no on site consumption of food.

Tom Burns, a local resident, said parking has never been a problem for the complex. “If you can’t find a space in the front one is always available in the back,” he said. Another resident described the cheese shop as a “perfect fit” for the small plaza.

In approving the permit, the commission added conditions prohibiting cooking and on site consumption of food. Partica said he hopes to open the shop before the start of the Christmas holiday shopping season.

Charles Stannard is a lifelong resident of Essex, and has covered various Middlesex County towns for two daily newspapers over the past 30 years.  He worked for the Middletown Press from 1979 to 1995 and the Hartford Courant from 1997 through last summer, and covered Chester, Deep River, Essex and Killingworth for the past decade.  Charlie lives in the Ivoryton section of Essex.