ROGERS PARK — By the end of a two-hour meeting about whether to lift a liquor moratorium on Sheridan Road, police had escorted two people out of Ciao Bella Cafe and another was ordered to leave by the alderman for being "out of order."
Tempers flared when more than 100 people turned up to show their support for the owner of Isam's Liquor Store, whose lease is up and isn't being renewed by the building's owner.
"I wanted to show my support," said nearby resident Jim Schneider, 24, sitting near the front of the crowded dining area inside the cafe. "But I guess I didn't need to."
Ald. Joe Moore (49th) struggled to keep the peace during the meeting he called to hear from constituents about whether to introduce an ordinance to the City Council that would lift a liquor moratorium in the area for one year, which would allow the owner of an upscale liquor store on Clark Street apply for a liquor license in Isam's place.
The majority of attendees, many of whom were recruited by the current liquor store owner Sam Sadaqa, expressed their love for Isam's.
But Marc Realty, the building's management company, said Sadaqa's time was up.
"In the last five years, we've spent a lot of money to try to make this a very nice building," said Mike Zbonski, of Marc Realty, touting the building's cafe as an example of the types of businesses he's looking to fill the storefronts.
"The liquor store's lease is up — nobody is throwing him out. His lease expired. It's reached its time," Zbonski said over the grumbling crowd. "Just like any business, everyone has a right to pick what they want."
Zbonski said they'd signed a lease with Pradeep Patel, who owns 11 other liquor stores in the Chicago area, including newly opened Red Violin Wine and Spirits on Clark Street. But the deal is contingent on whether they can persuade Moore to support lifting the moratorium on both sides of Sheridan Road from Pratt to Lunt avenues, and then obtain a new liquor license.
Yet as the meeting dragged on, attendees — one after another, and sometimes more than one at a time — yelled out their support for Sadaqa, who's been serving booze and groceries at 6816 N. Sheridan Road for more than 30 years.
"This is a man who has been a good neighbor," said one woman. She and others offered to help Sadaqa clean up the store known for its dingy appearance, and perhaps more so, for Sadaqa's brother, David, who works the evening shift, telling bad jokes while wearing a Texas-style cowboy hat.
"Sam has guys in his building who if I come home late will follow me home to make sure I get home safely," said another longtime resident, who balked at the idea of an upscale liquor store replacing Isam's.
"They're taking away a family member and a friend," said another.
Ben Chiako, the owner of Oasis bar across the street, said it was "unfair" how Sadaqa was being treated.
"It's just not right," he said. "They're taking his livelihood."
Others said, however, they were glad Isam's would be closing, but didn't want another liquor store to replace it.
At the end of the meeting, Sadaqa was given a chance to plead his case with the management company.
"Whatever this young man is offering, I will do the same," Sadaqa said of Patel's offer to fix up the store and abstain from selling cheap liquor.
Sadaqa said negotiations broke down in the past few months after a disagreement about the total square footage of the space.
"I will fix the store, but give me a lease," he said later inside his store, thumbing through more than 400 signatures he had collected from supportive neighbors.
He also described the rowdy behavior at the meeting as unnecessary.
"Sometimes when you're in a situation where you lose something that you like, you overreact," he said.
But it might have worked.
Moore said he'd "sit down with Sam" to help grease further discussion with the landlord.
John Rodes, 54, likened the boisterous meeting to a "circus" even though he opposed Patel's proposal.
He agreed with others that it would change the neighborhood's diverse character.
"If this trend continues, Sonny's Grocery will become the Yellow Cello Liquor Store," he said of a neighborhood convenience store a few blocks away, mocking Patel's proposed name for his new store, Green Guitar Wine and Spirits.
Sadaqa said he was happy with the turnout and hoped to stay in business for at least a few more years so he can afford to send his two youngest kids to college.
The 56-year-old said he was also OK with packing up and calling it quits — if that was what neighbors preferred.
"If the community wants me to leave," he said, "I would say 'thank you very much' and take my stuff away."