Maletis Brothers Grocery Store
By Sara Cox
In 1907 a young Greek man arrived in the United States from Limnes, Argos, in Greece. He was 16 years old, and his name was James Maletis. In 1917, James, his brother Peter, and cousin Chris founded the Maletis Brothers Grocery Store in Old Town. The store was originally located at 40 2nd Street. Between 1922 and 1923 the building in which the grocery store was located was purchased and turned into the Mt. Hood Factory, which made shirts and overalls. At this time the brothers moved the store a block west, to 40 3rd St, where it remained.
The Maletis Brothers Grocery Store was the only store in Portland where feta, olives and olive oil were available for purchase. James had them imported from Greece, and filled mail orders as far away as Alaska with these specialty items. Mary Maletis, James' daughter, helped her father in the store even as a little girl. She remembers the wide variety of foods that were available, noting that her father never limited his stock to only Greek food. Most of his customers were single men of Greek, Norwegian, Swedish, Western European, and Japanese descent. James Maletis stocked items for all the people of the neighborhood including lutfisk and smoked salmon for the Swedes and Norwegians. There was also a large selection of deli meats and take-out sandwiches for the workingman's lunch. In addition, the Maletis Brothers Grocery Store had a very large selection of cheeses, beans, nuts, pastas and bread. The bread was baked and delivered by local Greek bakeries, such as the Model, Olympic, and Tiptop.
In addition to being a well-liked neighborhood grocer, James Maletis also served as an informal banker, holding money for the men who occupied the single resident occupancy "hotels", or SROs, in the neighborhood. James would take the money from the men, note the amount on a slip of paper, and place it in the large safe behind the counter. Often the men would come asking for money for drinks, and James would never let them have it. Mary remembers many of the men later thanking her father for not letting them spend all their money on drinks.
During World War II, James' wife, Panagula, Mary, and her male cousins, helped in the store. When the war was over, and there were once again young men to hire as employees, Pan went back to being a housewife and raising their three daughters. As Mary got older she regularly helped her father at the store, eventually taking over the business in the 1970s. Mary and her two sisters bought the store building, changing the SRO that occupied the upper floors to allow women in 1985.
Maletis Brothers Grocery Store was a fixture in Old Town for many years, and served a vital need of the community, both as a store where home-style food could be bought, but also as an important community hub.
|The Maletis family (l.
to r. Helen, Peter, Chris, Jim, Mary)
(courtesy of Mary Maletis)