After Rent Triples, Beloved Logan Square Deli Half Italian Closing

Half Italian Grocer, 2643 N. Milwakee Ave., is being forced to close at the end of March. [Photo/Mina Bloom]

Half Italian’s days are numbered.

The beloved grocery store and deli, at 2643 N. Milwaukee Ave., is being forced to close at the end of March after a two-year-long legal battle with landlord Mark Fishman over a lease dispute.

While owner Nancy Kamp declined to comment on the closure, a lawsuit filed in Cook County Circuit Court shows Fishman tripled her rent and Kamp refused to pay.

Back in January 2011, Kamp signed a five-year lease with then-property owner Steve Petramala, who charged her $1,500 in monthly rent. The agreement also allowed Kamp to renew her lease for another five years and pay $1,800 in monthly rent, according to court filings.

At the center of the lawsuit is Kamp’s claim that she and Petramala allegedly reached a verbal agreement to extend the lease to September 2016, court filings show. This became a problem when Petramala sold the building to prolific real estate developer Mark Fishman in 2013.

Because Kamp was under the impression that her lease had been extended, she missed the window to renew her lease. Fishman then approached Kamp with a new lease, essentially forcing her to either pay $4,525 in monthly rent, vacate the premises or sell her business.

Kamp refused to comply. “This date was not and never intended to be the effective date of the lease,” she wrote in an email to Fishman that was provided to the court. “I am electing to renew the lease through 2021 at a rate of $1,800 per month.” Meanwhile, Petramala passed away, further complicating things.

After months of failed negotiations, Fishman filed a lawsuit against Kamp in March 2016, which ended up dragging on for two years. Throughout, Fishman defended the rent hike, saying he’s charging 20-percent below market rate. In his deposition, the developer said similar commercial spaces in the area are renting for anywhere between $27–45 per square foot.

“Tenant wants to use the Renewal Option to obtain a rent that is substantially below market, while denying that she is bound by the terms of that Renewal Option because of an oral agreement she had with the prior owner,” wrote Ed Malone of Barack Ferrazzano Kirschbaum & Nagelberg LLP, one of Fishman’s attorneys. “Tenant wants to have her cake and eat it too.”

In her deposition, Kamp said she was “baffled” by Fishman’s letter.

“I started to look back through my computer and pull up all my documents, and I found the documents of all the changes we made, and just — I was like, yeah, this is why I’m so confused, is because we made these changes, and my lease does not expire until September,” she said in her deposition.

Kamp contends that she and Petramala agreed the first lease was a placeholder until she received the city grant she needed to open the business. There is evidence that supports Kamp’s claim, though she and Petramala did not make any amendments to the lease itself, according to the court filings.

In January of this year, Fishman dropped the lawsuit against Kamp. The court filings don’t reveal why, and neither Fishman nor Kamp responded to requests for comment.

None of the attorneys involved in the lawsuit returned calls except Malone, who was reached, but declined to comment.

Half Italian posted a goodbye message to Facebook earlier this month, saying “it has been a pleasure to serve our loyal customers.”

Read some of the lawsuit here: