Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Alice Abrams Siegal Interview
Narrator: Alice Abrams Siegal
Interviewer: Becky Fukuda
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: December 13, 2004
Densho ID: denshovh-salice-01-0012

<Begin Segment 12>

BF: Okay, Alice, let's go back, we were talking about your father's tailor shop, and you were saying that you, at thirteen, started working there.

AS: Right.

BF: Now, this shop was outside of the Jewish community neighborhood, so did you, in your time working there, kind of get more exposed to more diversity?

AS: Well, of course, I was exposed to diversity in school.

BF: Uh-huh.

AS: But actually, at that time, when my father's store was there, many of the stores were owned by Jewish men. I know there was a music store, Myers music store was up a little ways, my, my father had a younger brother then who came to Seattle, and he opened a men's shop on the other side of the street. And then across from us, there were a lot of pawn shops. Little businesses, and many were owned by Jewish people. But, but I never really got to know the people in the stores because I'd come from school and go right there, and then we'd go home at the end of the day. So I knew who they were, in such a way, but there were, yeah, most of the small businesses between I'd say Union, maybe down to Yesler Way were owned by Jewish people.

BF: This is a bit of an aside, and it may not be fair to ask you this, 'cause, but, you know, I'm always amazed at how entrepreneurial the immigrant population is...

AS: That's right, that's right.

BF: ...and I often hear people say, "Well, where do they get the -- not only the wherewithal -- but the money to start these little businesses?" And I know in the Japanese community, they did have kind of a informal system of pooling money. Was there anything like that in the Jewish community at all?

AS: Well, you know, I don't remember hearing that about the Jewish community, but I've heard it about other communities. And I'm sure my father had, must have had to borrow money from relatives, except who would have had any money? Yeah, or he saved up money. I guess when he was working as a tailor for others, maybe he must have... in order to start it, and it never occurred to me to think about that, or ask about that. He sold men's clothing, men's suits, men wore topcoats also at that time, so yeah, to even get the merchandise, that cost a lot, so I'm sure he started with very limited merchandise. But you're right, I don't... oh, wait. There is an organization, it's called the Hebrew Free Loan, Free Loan Association? And it was set up to help immigrants. They're still in, they still, the organization still exists and they're still doing this with charging no interest. Now, I don't ever remember my father saying that he borrowed money from them, but that would have been one source, and of course, they started in small ways with limited merchandise, and just kind of building it up. So, but yeah, that's a good point. Yeah, I know I've read about other ethnic groups, where they, families just pooled their money, and, which makes a lot of sense.

BF: Well, just the, the courage to be an entrepreneur, and you said your mother actually said, "Stop, why work for other people? Go and do your own."

AS: Yeah, yeah. "Work for yourself."

BF: That's gutsy.

AS: Oh, she was. [Laughs] But now that you also mention it, many of the ethnic groups go into business for themselves because they can't get jobs. That, or at least that would pay enough to make a decent living. Of course, he didn't, my father didn't make a decent living, but again, it was the Depression so, but there was enough so that my mother didn't have to scrimp on, on buying food.

BF: Do you remember feeling at all poor?

AS: No.

BF: Because you said you got your first real doll when you were six.

AS: That's right, yes.

BF: So it doesn't sound like you were extremely wealthy. [Laughs]

AS: No, we were not, no. We were... but you know, when you're young, you don't think in terms of that. I mean, what you see, that's the way it is. Until you get to other homes, I mean, if you should get to other homes. But, well, I know we didn't have much of anything. [Laughs] I, I think, I didn't think about that until I was in grade school, but I'm sure I was still in the lower grades, that some of, like, one of my closest friends lived in a home when we moved to Twenty-sixth Avenue, that they had a lot of things there. They had a lot of things, and so her father was doing extremely well, I don't remember what his business was, but he was doing very well, but it was his own business, and they even moved to a brick house in the Madrona district. So... and I'd see some others who had things and I'd think, "Those kids don't deserve that. I'm a better student than most of them." [Laughs] "They're not fair." But that's about as much as... I didn't dwell on it, but I know it sort of surprised me that, even that I was thinking that way. [Laughs]

BF: Little Socialist then.

AS: Yeah, that was the Socialist, and even as a child, it goes to show it must be natural with some people.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.