When The Cork closed shop last summer in Riverside, the village lost a place where neighbors convened to try out newly arrived vintages, share some gossip and pick up a cigar or bottle to go.

After sitting vacant nine months, however, the space at 2720 Harlem Ave. suddenly has two suitors, including a Riverside resident who’d like to remake the space into a latter-day version of the friendly former wine store.

“I used to frequent The Cork, and I loved it,” said Jeff Schwarte, who has lived in Riverside for seven years. “It was a great business. It was a nice place to go and sample some wine, and I was sad to see it go.”
So after talking about the old place with his neighbors, the 43-year-old building contractor decided he’d open his own place in the same spot.

In January, Schwarte formed Crush Wine and Spirits LLC and he has applied for an A-1 liquor license to open the new store.

But Schwarte is unsure if he’ll get the chance to open the store, because there’s a second party who has also applied for an identical liquor license at that address.

Making thing more difficult, the commercial real estate broker representing the building’s owner says Schwarte isn’t part of the plan.

“[Schwarte] has tried to include himself in this, like he’s large and in charge,” said Jack Mansour, of Oak Lawn-based ReMax 10.

According to Mansour, while Schwarte approached the property owner first, he didn’t follow through.

Mansour says that property owner George Samuel is actively working to secure a lease for Nader Yahya, who has applied for the license under the corporate name Riverside Inc. That corporation was also created in January, according to Illinois Secretary of State records.

Yahya, who did not return messages left on his phone, owns two other liquor stores in the area, D&D Liquors in Wicker Park and Berwyn Food and Liquor, on Ogden Avenue in Berwyn.

It’s unclear what Yahya has in mind for his proposed business in Riverside. The Chicago and Berwyn locations are traditional liquor stores.

Mansour says that Yahya wants to open an “upscale wine and spirits” store.

“It’ll be a classy place, and he has the experience and resources to do that,” Mansour said.

Schwarte said he wants Crush Wine and Spirits to be “very similar, if not more refined” than The Cork, featuring wine tastings, wine clubs and wine-related regular events.

Just who will end up with the lease is also unclear at this point. The building at 2720 Harlem Avenue is owned by a corporation called Sambrook LLC. Secretary of State records show that the firm is related to a property management company called K&R Management in Oak Brook, whose president is Rosamma Samuel.

The village’s liquor commissioner, Village President Michael Gorman said no decision has been made on who will end up with the liquor license. The village board will discuss creating the new license at its April 4 meeting, but a vote won’t be taken at that time.

According to Gorman, in order for him to issue the license, someone has to come forward with a lease.

“It’s up to the landlord and the two individuals,” said Gorman.

In the meantime, Gorman is happy to have such keen interest in a single commercial location.

“At this point it’s a pleasure to have more than one retailer interested in the location,” Gorman said. “It’s not a dilemma, it’s an opportunity.”

Whoever ends up with the license, said Gorman, “I’m sure residents will welcome and support them.”