Almaz Feissa, an Ethiopian immigrant, came to the United States with only 50 dollars in her hand and is now the proud owner of her small business. Many Seattle Academy students visit the University Market and Deli, which opened in 2010 and is located on the corner of 12th Avenue and East Columbia Street.
Almaz explained that she had practically nothing when she immigrated. “I left [Ethiopia] in 1981,” said Almaz. “When I came to America, since I was a refugee the only money that I had was 50 dollars.” Since she was new to the United States and did not have a job yet, she had to use her money wisely.
One of her most important priorities was finding a place to live, “I stayed in someone's house for a week in LA," Almaz said. "Then I asked around for information, and the government gave my husband and me an apartment, but we had nothing to eat, no furniture. We were sleeping on the carpet for 3 to 4 months. But then I got a job at the bank.”
Having an apartment was a blessing for Almaz, but there was nothing else that came with it, so until she saved up her paychecks from work there was no way she could get furniture. Many people in the world see the United States as a place in which financial stability comes easy. Almaz found out that the reality was different.
“I thought America was so easy,” Almaz explained. “You find money everywhere, and all those kinds of things. Because of that, I gave all my clothes to someone else before I left France. When I got my job, I had no clothes to wear. But America is the land of opportunity, so I went to Salvation Army or Goodwill, and with 2 dollars I got so many clothes.”
After working for the bank for 20 years, Almaz decided to move to Seattle and to open a convenience store. “To open up a store has always been a dream of mine,” Almaz said enthusiastically. “I just wasn’t able to do it for a long time. To open a store is the hardest thing, especially if you are an immigrant, black and have no money.”
Not having money started to become one of the most significant roadblocks in the way of Almaz’s achieving her goal. “The problem was I only had 50,000 dollars,” Alma said. “But I pretended like I had 200,000 dollars. I went from bank to bank asking for loans, but it was so hard because I was black and hadn't owned a business before. But then I had the idea to apply for a credit card, and once I got one I used it, and the banks that were rejecting me before had accepted me.”
After having the store for more than a decade, it is not a surprise that Almaz has made so many connections with different Seattle Academy students. “Believe it or not, I love Seattle Academy children so much that when school is closed, I miss them,” Almaz said. “All the wildness reminded me of my kids when they were younger.” Almaz loves that Seattle Academy students come into her store. They are one of the biggest reasons why she has kept the store for so long and why she loves it so much.
“Seattle Academy students brighten up my day when they walk into the store,” Almaz told us. “They are so respectful and kind, and I have made such good connections with some of them. So close that I even used to go to the Seattle Academy graduations. I think of the students as my kids.”