Saloom Department Store marks 85 years in business in Mt. Pleasant
When George Albert Saloom left the Middle Eastern country of Lebanon to travel to the United States in 1917, he did not have a wife, and he did not have much money.
What he did possess was a dream to make a new life in the new world and become a success.
Eleven years after he arrived on American soil, Saloom established Saloom Department Store along Main Street in Mt. Pleasant.
To this day, the business he started has proven to be the success he so yearned to achieve as it marks its 85th year of ongoing operation at the location.
That makes the store the second oldest continuous business in the town.
When Saloom first came to the this country, the young immigrant found work in a steel mill, but the night hours did not agree with the young man.
“He had a hard time staying awake,” said Charlotte Saloom Mowry, Saloom's daughter who currently is listed as the store's sole proprietor along with her husband Leon Mowry.
“He ended up working for my uncle who had a candy store in Pleasant Unity and that was where he learned to speak English. There was a lady who came in every day that helped him to learn the language,” Mowry said.
Saloom then returned to Lebanon, which borders the Mediterranean Sea between Israel and Syria. While there he married before traveling back to Mt. Pleasant with his new wife, Effie, who was pregnant at the time.
“They were staying with the Jacobs family,” Mowry said. “When Effie saw Mt. Pleasant, she said ‘This looks like a nice town, it's too bad that I will never be able to enjoy it.'”
Soon after her arrival, Effie Saloom died in childbirth, but not before having a daughter, also named Effie.
“My dad had no job, no wife, nothing,” Mowry said. “The Jacobs family owned a department store and my father worked there. My mother worked there and talked her mother into taking care of the baby. When the baby was about 6 years old, they got married.”
After working for several years in the Jacobs family's department store in Mt. Pleasant, Saloom recognized an opportunity to go into business when owners of the H.F. Hanse store across the street announced the business was closing.
“My dad saved up $500 and went to Pittsburgh and bought merchandise,” Mowry said. “He brought that back and put it (into) the store. The shelves were so bare that he and my mother covered them with sheets so you couldn't see that they were empty.”
Saloom sold out in one week, which started a weekly ritual for the young businessman, who was determined to make his business flourish.
“He went down to Pittsburgh every week on Sunday to buy (items) for the store,” Mowry said.
Saloom's family grew along with his business and, in 1980, the Mowrys purchased the business from the family.
“When we bought it, there was about $15,000 worth of merchandise in the whole store,” Mowry said. “We have way, way more than that now.”
The Mowrys took over the business and started to expand its hunting, fishing and sporting goods selection while eliminating items such as dresses, gowns and suits.
“We took it from a “mom-and-pop” store to a sporting goods store,” Mowry said. “I saw that the malls were starting to build, and I knew that there was no way that I could compete with that.”
Focusing on sporting goods proved to be a wise choice for the Mowrys, as the store is now lined from top to bottom with sporting attire and equipment.
The Mowrys eventually purchased an adjacent business and expanded the store, doubling its space.
With an eye on the area's growing interest in archery, the Mowrys also opened an indoor archery range to the public and later added a video archery area for hunters to enjoy.
Despite all those changes, the store remains a true family business as the Mowrys' son, Leon Mowry II, serves as its manager.
“This is a real family business,' Leon Mowry II said. “We do what we can to make the customers happy.”
The Mowrys' grandchildren, Samara Mowry, 14, and Leon Mowry III, 10, also come to the store to help out when they can.
“I like to help my grandmother; it's fun,” Samara Mowry said.
Although the store has been slightly affected by the downspin in the economy, the Mowrys plan to continue on with the business, staying on top of what is new and what their customers might want.
“We try to keep our customers satisfied,” Charlotte Saloom Mowry said. “We try to give them the best quality at affordable prices.”
And what does the future hold for the family?
“We hope to be here for another 85 years,” Leon Mowry said.
Marilyn Forbes is a freelance writer.