The Abraham Ready to Wear Store
Written by Dr. Anthony Bashir
The Abraham Ready to Wear Store was located at 117 Main Street in Spring Valley and opened in 1903. Our grandfather, Sam Abraham and our grandmother Khzma, who we knew and loved as Sitoo Emma, emigrated to the United States from Rashaya al Wadi in Lebanon in the late 1890’s.
The Ottoman Empire had overtaken the area and many families fled for France, England, the United States, Brazil and Australia. At first the Abraham family settled in Peoria, Illinois, where there were others from their region in Lebanon. It was there that their second child, Louis, was born. Their first child was Sophie, who had stayed in Rashaya with relatives and came to join the family here in Spring Valley in 1910.
The family moved to Spring Valley because of Alex Michael who was a relative. Alex became like a Godfather to all of the Abraham children. Their first home was on East Iowa Street and would always be called the Homestead. Children followed quickly – a son Henry, followed by three daughters, Mary (1902), Elizabeth (1905), and Sadie (1908). Each of the children married and resided in Spring Valley for their lifetimes – all except Sophie.
The Aunt Sophie married Thomas George in 1914 and moved to Worcester, Massachusetts where our Grandfather Sam’s brother Farah and other family members had settled and where our relatives continue to live and worship at the Cathedral of St. George until this day. There is even a society of people there whose ancestry traces from the Mouhaidthe and Rashaya areas of Lebanon where our grandparents had lived before immigrating to the United States.
The Abraham Ready to Wear Store featured piece goods, shoes, work clothes as well as dress clothes. The Abraham’s operated the store themselves and, several years after the opening, employed Mary Bergerac, a neighbor of theirs, to clerk in the store. As each of the children grew and matured, they too came and worked in the store – standing on stools so that they could see the customers and helping them find what they needed.
As the business flourished, our Grandfather Sam decided to enlarge his business and purchased a horse and wagon; he loaded the wagon with merchandise, and began traveling to little towns south of Spring Valley. During the winter months he traveled by sleigh to sell his merchandise. The children would awaken at 4 a.m. to help their father load his wagon. And our Grandmother also supported the whole family with her love and devotion and great cooking over a coal burning stove. She was a wonderful, thoughtful and caring woman. She too peddled merchandise and would carry large suitcases filled with items by streetcar to Peru and La Salle where she walked door-to-door selling her wares.
As the business prospered, Louis and Henry left high school to help their father. Uncle Louis also would farm and Uncle Henry also would open a sheet metal business. In the early 1920’s our Grandfather purchased the building west of their existing business. An arch was constructed between the two buildings so as to join the two structures. One building would become the women’s store and the other the store for men’s wear.
William (Bill) Abbott and Steve Kocur worked in both the men’s department and the wholesale business. Sam Sebastian later joined them and worked in wholesale. The wholesale business was discontinued in 1959. These men became part of the family and were exceptional people and devoted to the family in many ways.
Mary, Elizabeth, and Sadie worked at the store throughout their lives. Every one knew and respected them; they enjoyed an extended social network throughout the Valley. The women of the family carried on the business until 1983, when it changed hands to the next generation. The men’s side was remodeled and became the Emporium for Men and the women’s side closed.
Our Grandfather and Grandmother were deeply religious and spiritual people. They raised their children to serve the Lord and the church with a generous heart and an abiding faith. The family prayed daily and our Grandfather would say the Vespers each day for his family and read the Psalms aloud to our Grandmother. Their spirituality and beliefs shaped their lives and became a way of life for all of us. They were ethical and moral people who taught that the imitation of the Lord leads to a life of happiness and love.
They joined with other families, many of whom also came from the Rashaya area of Lebanon, and founded the present St. George Church in Spring Valley in 1918. Our Grandfather Sam passed away into life eternal in 1950 followed by his beloved Khzma, our Grandmother Emma in 1957. Their spirit and fervor lives on at St. George here in the Valley through God’s Grace and the Orthodox Christian message of hope and salvation for all.