Mouhannad "Moe" Sitto conducts business behind a wall of bulletproof glass.
When you manage a liquor store in one of downtown Las Vegas' roughest neighborhoods, you have to be safe.
On this day, two police cruisers are camped outside of XO Liquor, 3915 E. Charleston Blvd. Someone is being arrested for a fight nearby.
Customers -- some who appear to be drunk, others high -- gossip with Sitto about what's going on in the parking lot while they buy single cigarettes and tallboys at 1 p.m. on a Monday . They all agree, "It's not good for business, man."
A group of men enters the store, looking for Ziploc baggies. Sitto has a guess regarding what purpose they'll serve : drugs.
The store light glints off from the shiny metal of a handgun tucked into one man's waistband as he leans near the counter.
"You've gotta be very careful," Sitto said. "There are no boundaries for mistakes."
With his index finger, he taps an ultrasound photo taped to the counter. His wife, Katie, is due in January. It will be his first child.
"Big Moe," as his friends call him because of his large "gym rat" muscles, isn't jaded about serving the same broken-down people after five years on the job. He works 15 to 16 hours a day, seven days a week. The 30-year-old Iraqi transplant has transformed a place that caters to addictive vices into a place of charity, comfort and loyal friendship.
During the holidays, Sitto will buy cooked chicken and cans of beans and serve plates for five hours to the area's poor and homeless. He also has purchased turkeys to hand out to families in the neighborhood, spending an estimated $1,500 out of pocket annually. He acts as a big brother to some of the troubled youths, even sponsoring kids in their candy bar fundraisers to play basketball. He said he's a big believer in second chances.
"I grew up poor," he said. "We were Section 8. My mom said a lot of people helped us. I don't know who they were, but I like to think I can thank them this way. It's very important to help people. Not take. Give."
His father's health problems kept him from working. His mother would have to beg the neighbors for food at times.
"Sometimes she would go hungry for two or three days just to make sure we had food," Sitto said.
Customers trickle in and out of the store. He speaks Spanish with some.
He greets them with a warm, "What's going on, boss?" He always tells them , "Have a beautiful day." He affectionately calls his female customers "Honey" or "Sweetie."
One woman frowns after buying a $250 money order. Sitto asks her if she's OK. A feeling of relief washes over her face. Someone noticed her bad day. She smiled and said she was all right as she walked out the door.
The phone rings. It's Sitto's mother. They chat in Arabic. She's bringing him lunch, so he'd better be hungry.
He jokes about his wife, mother and mother-in-law clamoring for his belly's attention -- sometimes all three want to make him a meal in one day. He tells them all they're the best cooks. He eats when he's full to keep them happy.
Another customer walks in. His name is John Rowe. He's been homeless for four years, a result of his heroin and alcohol addictions. Sitto's voice is tinged with sadness as he talks about Rowe's drug problems.
With glassy eyes, Rowe slurs about how "Moe is good people."
Sitto opens the door to the bulletproof chamber, allowing Rowe to peek his head in.
From his hat to his socks, every piece of clothing Rowe wears is a Sitto hand-me-down. Rowe has been a loyal customer of Sitto's for almost two years. Sitto won't sell booze to him when he's had too much.
"I love you, dog," Rowe says to Sitto as they bump fists.
By this time, people have forgotten the police cars that are still outside. Sitto's mother, Najat , hurries into the store with bags of food in hand, a worried expression on her face. She's afraid he's been robbed. He spends the next 10 minutes calming her down.
"All humans bleed the same. What you do for people, God will pay you back," said his sister Amanda Sitto, 38. "When my family was going through bad times, people helped us. My brother will give you the shirt off his back."
The opportunity to take advantage of his kindness never presents itself because Sitto won't let it. Those who abuse it are eighty-sixed from the store -- and his charity -- forever. He knows everyone by name.
He tackled teenagers who were tagging the store, took their IDs and made them come back the next day to clean it up. He's had people steal from the store, but rather than turn them in to police, he tells them to return the merchandise and clean the parking lot. He's stared down the barrel of a shotgun, been threatened with knives and syringes and still believes there's good in everyone.
"People weren't born this way; they're not born homeless," he said. "When people are cold and hungry, you can't turn your head."
Contact North Las Vegas View reporter Kristi Jourdan at email@example.com or 383-0492.