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With Bel-Port Liquors Closing, Joe Barbari & His Cool Bird Say Goodbye

By Ariel Cheung | April 25, 2016 5:38am
 Sasha the cockatoo looks on as Joe Barbari helps a customer at Bel-Port Liquors. After 34 years, Bel-Port Liquors is closing to make way for Bow Truss Coffee Roasters.
Sasha the cockatoo looks on as Joe Barbari helps a customer at Bel-Port Liquors. After 34 years, Bel-Port Liquors is closing to make way for Bow Truss Coffee Roasters.
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DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung

LAKEVIEW — For 12 years, Amy Stasny and her dog Bailey have started their walks around west Lakeview at Bel-Port Liquors, where owner Joe Barbari always has dog treats waiting for one of his favorite customers.

With his pet cockatoo Sasha perched on his shoulder on a recent weekday, Barbari tossed bone-shaped biscuits to Bailey. For a while, when the dog was sick, Barbari's biscuits were all she'd eat, Stasny said.

Barbari tossed her another, but then said with a chuckle, "That's it, Bailey. You'll get fat."

Reporter Ariel Cheung on the changes happening in Lakeview.

For decades, this has been Barbari's life. His cousin opened Bel-Port Liquors in March 1982, and Barbari, 50, took over six years later.

"I've been here ever since," said Barbari.

But the storekeep's watch over Belmont and Southport avenues will come to an end this spring, when Bel-Port Liquors, 1362 W. Belmont Ave., is expected to close to make way for a new Bow Truss Coffee Roasters.

RELATED: Bow Truss Founder Wants To Revitalize Belmont Corner With New Location

"I'm losing everything," Barbari said solemnly. "This is my only source of business. This is what puts food on my table."

The building has been sold, and he's been told to vacate by mid-May. But before Barbari can dwell, another longtime customer stops in to shake his hand and wish him a "happy retirement."

Joe Barbari and his cockatoo, Sasha, at Bel-Port Liquors. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]

Barbari's eyes light up, and he cracks a joke about "putting my feet up."

Stickers the store had made with his likeness that label products as "Joe Approved" have suddenly become a hot item, as have similar T-shirts.

They talk briefly about Barbari's daughter, who's in college, and his visitor departs, promising to see Barbari again soon.

"I'm going to miss a lot of people around here," Barbari says, brusquely helping three or four customers.

But he laments that he's not as close to as many customers as he used to be.

"The atmosphere, the sense of humor with people doesn't exist as much. You say, 'Good morning' to them, and they look at you like, 'Who are you?'" he said.

It can be hard to resist Barbari's easy manner, and even harder to resist Sasha. For the last four years, Sasha has greeted Bel-Port customers, often perched on Barbari's shoulder as he works.

"The kids come and say hello; the adults take pictures with her; and everybody comes to see her every day," Barbari told DNAinfo Chicago last year. "She's getting very popular — right, Sasha?"

Rent prices in Lakeview have risen beyond his reach, so Barbari doesn't plan on opening a new location. But what stunned him, Barbari said, was his landlord's abrupt break from what he'd seen as a warm relationship built over three decades. 

"All of a sudden, he turned 360 degrees on me," Barbari said. "I've never seen him like this before. He could just say good luck, at least."

Barbari's landlord could not be reached for comment.

Bel-Port Liquors will close in May after 34 years at 3612 W. Belmont Ave. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]

The Palestinian national doesn't know the exact date he'll have to close, but said he hopes to see most of his customers before then. After 35 years in the United States, it'll be like saying goodbye to family.

"I love the people around here," Barbari said. "The neighborhood has changed, yes, but the people I deal with have been wonderful."

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