It's been well over a year since a fire ravaged DeLuca's Market, a 105-year-old Beacon Hill icon. In the meantime, customers have lamented losing the landmark--and a place to pick up groceries--while the market's owner, Virgil Aiello, battled with the neighborhood over plans to expand the store.
Now, Aiello said, the store is on its way to reopening after the July 2010 fire caused an estimated $1 million in damage. No opening date has been set, he said, though “we’re really trying” to open at least some parts of the store before the holiday season.
“We’re really excited about reopening,” said Aiello, whose family has owned the supermarket since 1905, in an interview this week. In fact, he said, it’s hard to say who is more excited about the return of the local landmark: the proprietor or the customers.
A peek inside the store shows a largely empty space, though the floors look finished and ready for fixtures. DeLuca said the final design has to be approved, as does electricity for the wine cellar. A sign posted outside notes that the store is hiring a sign-maker with good handwriting.
Last year, as the Globe reported, Aiello clashed with neighbors over plans to expand the store into a studio apartment above the store and raise the roof of the building. Those plans are off the table, Aiello said, after complaints from a few neighbors.
When it does reopen, Aiello said the iconic market will look much the same as it did before, though with some updates. “That’s our goal: make the store have the same feel as it had before, a European feel," he said. "I call it the European pantry feel."
He said the store will have a large, colorful assortment of prouducts in a limited space, “similar to what you might find in some local markets in Europe.”
But the store also serves as a pantry where Beacon Hill customers who don't have a lot of storage space can "drop around the corner" to pick up some cream or a few potatoes.
"We have a mix of customers, and some have very large homes with storage areas, but a lot of our customers live in small apartments where there isn't a lot of storage," Aiello said. "So DeLuca's is their pantry."
When those customers run out of sugar, he said, instead of going to a neighbor's, they'll "come to DeLuca's for a two pound box of sugar, which we carry."
The staff should also be familiar to DeLuca's regulars: though it’s been roughly 16 months since the fire, Aiello said the Charles Street store maintained its staff by transferring workers to the Newbury Street location. "The staff is experienced, they know the customers and they know the products, and they're ready to go” Aiello said.
One new staff member: an"exceptional" wine manager with “an amazing understanding of how to match up food with wine,” Aiello said.
Aiello said two sections of the store will be ready to open before the rest: the wine cellar and the prepared foods area, which will also have milk, bread, butter and eggs—“things people use on a daily basis.”
“So we’ll start with that before we have the full-blown store in operation,” said Aiello. The final store design has yet to be approved, he said.
Aiello, a retired attorney who has an office next to the Charles Street storefront, said he's missed the store, though the Newbury location has helped fill the void--for him and for customers who shopped at the Charles Street store where John F. Kennedy picked up his groceries.
“I’m still in shock. It’s just shocking. About the fire and the amount of time that it’s taking to put things back together,” Aiello said.
“It’s been a tradition in the neighborhood, it’s been a tradition in my family to have the store for over 100 years," he added. "We hope to be able to start anew for the next 100 years.”