The son was very close to his father, translating for him and helping him navigate their lives as immigrants after they moved to Chicago five years ago from Greece.
On July 8, Eduard Peci was alone in his store, Windy City Liquors, 4959 N. Damen Ave., when robbers hit him and took money from the cash register, he said through a translator. Wanting only to get back to work, he didn't call police. But a passerby dialed 911.
Then, just five days later, the family faced even greater sorrow when Gjergji, 24, drowned in Wisconsin's Geneva Lake. He was boating with friends and went into the water, and winds pushed the boat out of his reach, according to relatives and the Walworth County coroner.
Peci closed the family store for nine days following his son's death to mourn him. Ravenswood residents, shocked and saddened, left flowers and cards outside the store. But the neighbors' dedication to the family didn't end there.
Caroline Russell shops at the store about twice a week and, finding a handwritten note saying it was closed, started a conversation online, and neighbors pieced together the events, she said. Though most of them know the family only through greetings on the way in and out of the store, they wanted to help. So they started an online fundraiser to help the Pecis deal with the lost funds and funeral expenses.
Residents appreciated the Peci family's kindness and interest in customers' lives, Russell said. They seem to "care more about people than they do profit," she said.
"It's nice that (the Pecis) live in the area so they know what's going on in the neighborhood as well," Russell said.
As of Wednesday afternoon, three days into the online fundraiser at giveforward.com/pecifamilyfundraiser, $545 had been pledged to the family.
"It just shows what a great community we have over here. To be able to count on people in a time of need is just amazing," said Brandon Weninger, a neighbor who created the fundraising page. "Everyone's come together just trying to support a local business and a local family."
Neighbors would like to do even more and are looking to host a fundraiser at a neighborhood bar, Weninger said.
Originally from Albania, the Pecis moved to Chicago in 2006 to join another relative. After two years of working for other employers, Eduard Peci wanted to be his own boss and opened Windy City Liquors.
He works about 15-hour days, taking only short breaks. Gjergji Peci was quiet and loved sports, rooting for the soccer team AC Milan and the Chicago Bears, his father said. In addition to helping his father, he worked at the Sofitel hotel to pay for classes at Northeastern Illinois University. He wanted to work in sports management, his father said.
With his son gone, only Peci and his wife work at the store. Though nothing can erase the pain of losing his son, Peci said support from family and the community helped him get through each day.
The Pecis opened their doors for family and friends after Gjergji Peci's death, and support from neighbors poured in, Eduard Peci said. Family from around the world called, but few were able to travel to Chicago. His neighbors' care has helped fill that void.
"Knowing the people makes the job more rewarding," Peci said.