Delmonico's Italian Foods has been a fixture in northeast Minneapolis' Beltrami neighborhood for more than 80 years, with loyal customers from all over the Twin Cities and beyond making their way to the modest, out-of-the-way grocery to stock up on its homemade pasta sauce, fresh Italian sausage and meatballs.

But after decades helping to run the family business, cousins Bob and Terry Delmonico are now stepping up their efforts to sell the beloved establishment and an adjoining residential duplex, saying that although it's painful, it's time to move on.

"It's the end of an era," said Bob Delmonico. "We definitely have mixed feelings about it. But we're getting older -- body parts wear out, you know."

Terry Delmonico turned 60 this year and cousin Bob admits to being in his late 50s. They have spent their entire lives around the store at 1112 Summer Street NE., which for most of that time was run by their late fathers -- the brothers George and Louis Delmonico.

After several years of on-and-off efforts to land a buyer themselves, they've hired a commercial real estate agent whose task it will be to find a way to transition the property from a nostalgic post-World War II neighborhood business into something that might tap into Northeast's emerging status as a hip arts district.

The cousins hired Brad Schaeppi, an investment sales broker with Welsh Cos., who has listed Delmonico's on several online commercial real estate exchanges and is tailoring a marketing campaign for the retail store and duplex.

"We'll have to find the right buyer for it because it's unique," he said. "Basically, you have an up-and-down duplex adjacent to the retail space, and an adjoining oversized two-car garage. It's right on the park, and the retail is a non-conforming use."

Schaeppi has listed the property for sale at $289,000. Including the house, it boasts a total of 3,200 square feet.

The challenge, he said, will be to figure out how to reach a potential buyer who would want to set a up a business in the retail section that works with Northeast's emerging identity, and who could also find a way to incorporate the duplex.

"The strength of northeast Minneapolis is the arts, and we think this property could work with someone who is creative and can see the potential for it," Schaeppi said.

As an example, he cited Duplex, a restaurant and bar on Hennepin Avenue S. that, as its name indicates, was formerly a residential duplex converted to a new use. Another possibility, he said, could be to convert Delmonico's big garage into a restaurant space, much like Brasa, a successful East Hennepin Avenue eatery that was once a service station.

But the dual use of the site could make lining up financing more difficult as well. "I think there are lots of people with new and creative ideas out there, but they will probably have to have a relationship with a local lender willing to work with them. It doesn't fit the mold of a duplex, which you could finance through Fannie Mae, and it's not standard retail, either."

Schaeppi said he plans to tap the Art-a-Whirl gallery tour, which attracts 50,000 people to northeast Minneapolis every May, as a means to promote Delmonico's sale.

Bob Delmonico said they had an agreement with a buyer a few years ago who wanted to turn the store into a yoga studio, but it never happened.

Neighborhood leaders, meanwhile, say they'll be sad to see the institution go, but at the same time are excited about what a new user could bring.

Beltrami Neighborhood Council Chairwoman Arlene Zamora says that like many in the neighborhood, she and her family sit down to a spaghetti dinner every week featuring homemade sauce and pasta from Delmonico's.

"We're sad about it because it has been in the neighborhood forever," she said. "People come from all over the country to go there. On Saturdays, especially, it's very popular."

But the neighborhood group is already thinking about how the site could be reused. Its leaders say they want to capitalize on a surge of new homeowners, young families and artists that are coming into still-affordable Beltrami -- a phenomenon which they say is offsetting the negative effects of foreclosures.

It's on the group's "wish list" to buy the store themselves and convert it to a coffee or sandwich shop as a way to keep it as a community-focused icon, Zamora said.

But, she admitted, that may not be a likely outcome.

"We want to be involved in whatever happens to Delmonico's," she said. "We're hoping to keep it local and keep it quaint with a Northeast touch."

Don Jacobson is a St. Paul-based freelance writer.