“We are headed to Beer Shop!”, he yelled over the sound of twelve paws crunching in the snow.
I was walking my two mini schnauzers down Marion St when tugs on a leash lurched forward causing me to almost crash into a man walking a labrador. Apologies and sniffs were promptly exchanged.
As the dogs sorted out this new olfactory stimulation, my fellow human and I talked about our pets and the downtown Oak Park area. Him and his wife relocated from Minnesota and just had dinner at La Bella (he recommended the Negroni). I learned that his dog, Lola, was a rescue and having trouble socializing with others. He was on his way to Beer Shop for an evening pint.
I’m embarrassed to say, this was the most in-person social interaction I had had with a stranger in ages. We live in a time where the 20 second wait for an elevator is filled with a scroll through a smartphone and dinner plans with friends are quickly prescribed through polarizing Yelp reviews and pictures of diners past holding the menu in the restaurant’s dim candlelit lighting.
Don’t get me wrong, I am guilty of filling any slight moment of solitude with a podcast, but there was something charming and deeply fulfilling about this encounter.
Dogs have an uncanny ability to unite people and Tony Compaglia’s concept of Beer Shop provides a rare analog social experience right out of a scene from the Andy Griffith Show.
Beer Shop is a place where dogs and humans alike can socialize over local brews. If that is not the most Oak Park thing I’ve ever heard…On with my discussion with owner and founder, Tony Compaglia.
Where are you from and what brought you to Oak Park?
I am from California and grew up primarily in the San Francisco Bay Area. My wife is from Chicago originally (Hyde Park). I was brought to Oak Park for my business based on the recommendation of a friend from the area.
Your concept of local beers, grab and go retail and BYOF is unique to the area – what was your inspiration?
Our’s is not a unique concept on the west coast. The original business like this is San Francisco’s City Beer, which opened about a decade ago. I am also good friends with the Caps and Taps owner in Dublin, CA. The craft beer store concept has spread all over the west and now there are similar businesses in Chicago.
Does Beer Shop have a mission statement?
BeerShop is meant to be fun and have an irreverent but knowledgable staff pouring great beer that is always changing. Our customers span all ages and often are accompanied by their children, parents, and even dogs. What I don’t want BeerShop to be is just a bar, or a snobby place for beer nerds. I want BeerShop to be fun, relaxed and selling great beer from friendly, helpful people. Hopefully, we’ve succeeded.
How long did it take from idea to opening doors?
About a year and a half. This included a lot of research, relocating from SF, finding a store location and going through the licensing and buildout.
What were the biggest hurdles?
Being away from my family before they moved out to the Chicago area.
Your shop is friendly to furry, four legged canine patrons. How did that start?
Again, I am not that original of a thinker! I saw this occuring in similar businesses as ours and so customers began bringing their dogs. I am very grateful to the village for creating rules to allow us to formalize this practice.
Your dog friendly policy faced scrutiny in 2016 when a complaint filed with the village led to the Board of Health recommending that non-service dogs be prohibited from the shop. 27,000 people signed an online petition in favor of your appeal to the village and 30 people spoke at a hearing advocating for the allowance of dogs in your shop.
How did it feel to have such fervent community support?
I had no idea Oak Parkers loved their dogs so much! I must admit I am also not someone who craves too much attention or the spotlight. But it was unbelievable to receive so much support from the community. BeerShop has the best customers (and employees) in the world!
Where do you see Beer Shop in 10 years?
I am opening a second location in Logan Square called Drink Shop. It will feature a full liquor store and bar. We hope to be open in April. After that? Perhaps the Senate…..That’s a joke.
You can follow us on Instagram, Twitter, FB and the web @drinkshopchi
Did you have to make any other compromises to your concept in order to comply with local ordinances?
Not really. Overall, the village has been extremely supportive. And the people are really wonderful. Oak Park is a very special place. It took me two years to find another location. I got lucky with The OP!
When you are not busy petting dogs and pouring brews where can we find you?
Right now in Logan Square overseeing the buildout of our spot. Or running around with my kids. Balancing family with being an entrepreneur is not always so easy.
What has been the hardest part of owning a business for you?
Trying to explain to people that I really don’t ever have time off and as a result I can’t do a lot of the things that sometimes I’d like to do, like just hang out with friends.
Favorite thing about Oak Park?
Just the diversity and generosity of people you meet. So many customers have helped me and reminded me why I do this.
Any advice for local entrepreneurs looking at the OPRF community?
It’s always important to have a very well researched business plan. But it’s also very important to listen to the community, your customers and employees.
What are you reading?
The Beastie Boys autobiography. Their music was some of my favorite from that era. And It’s crazy to hear how wild growing up in 80s-90s Manhattan was before full on gentrification set in.