Reslem “Mike” Salem

by John Gerlach, photograph by Vince Bushell

Ed. Note: Mike Salem is well known in Riverwest as the owneroperator of Sunrise Foods at the corner of Locust and Weil Streets. Recently, reporter John Gerlach had a long conversation with him. Here is Mike’s story, in his own words.

I like to hear different opinions, or different things that I don’t know. I love to talk to people, no matter what they believe, or what their nationality. I get along with everybody.

That’s why I love Riverwest. It reminds me of back home in Jerusalem, where I was born. You could see all sorts of people there; you don’t want to leave. I used to go three or four times a week, just to sit in the cafe, drink those Turkish coffees, and walk around. You could see Europeans speaking different languages; you could see all sorts of people, Israelis, Arabs, Muslims, Christians, everybody was in that small city, shopping, getting along together. It’s very beautiful.

If you go anywhere in the world, if people put politics aside, you could live with anyone with no problem. Breaking people apart is harder, because everybody is going to fight for their own. Let the people feel freedom.

But politicians try to divide us. They build a fence; nobody can go in, nobody can go out. But the people, they could live together.

We used to go in the morning, work with the Israelis, and go home, same day, every day. You don’t see violence. We get along with each other. We made money, and it was a better living. We would love to go back and forth every day.

Now, you can’t go because they don’t have a peace agreement. We don’t need a peace agreement – we are a people! We like to see some unique places in that country, to know the people. If they let us do that, there won’t be this situation in the Middle East.

For example, I know a lot of people who were at the Gate, just dying to go to the Holidays, the Christmas Holidays, or the Muslim Holidays. They don’t let anybody out.

They would love to go, because it’s the Great Time, especially Christmas. Where was Jesus born? In Bethlehem. They’d be out all night, praying. Lights, music, and everything. And there was no violence. They’re just thinking about how they’re having fun, how they’re doing their thing together. It was a very good time. We miss that. You can’t go there now, just to enjoy your religion.

But now, when they put everyone in isolation, it’s like two Germanys. They destroyed that wall, and now they’re living together in peace. We could have peace with anybody, if you just have good communication.

It’s a good word, “peace,” to have between two people. It’s very, very simple. You don’t need to spend a million dollars on a fence. You could use this money on a hospital, on schools, fun for the kids. Instead, they spend it in weapons and fences and army equipment.

I know people who don’t eat meat but once or twice a year. People live in tents, kids without shoes, in their underwear. You just sit in the street and wait for God to help you. So you pray. I wish you could go there and see how they live.

Riverwest is very fun, very interesting, to see different people when you go to work, or catch the bus, or ride in your car. The most important thing when you live in a community, you’re not just looking for business only; you’ve got to look for the other things – to help people, to associate with people, to get them together, help them to clean up the street or the neighborhood. Donate for special occasions they want to do in the community.

When people have a problem, they come to us, because we’ve been here for so long – thirteen years! We direct him to the right way to get help. If you’re here in the neighborhood, you’ve got to be with people in the way that they want, with different traditional ways.

Especially here in Riverwest, it’s a diversity of people. And I do my best with that. We associate with the neighbors. If they have weddings, we go there and do what we’re supposed to do; the traditional thing. Even if we don’t know, we ask people what we’re supposed to do. I ask and find out and do the right thing.

Be honest with the customer, so they come back to you. That’s my policy. I have most everything they need. It’s not easy to keep up with everything. You’ve got a lot of variety. You know what the people need, so you just bring it here, and make it more convenient for them. I work hard for that. Because we ask them what they like, what they want.

It’s very hard, believe me, to make everybody satisfied. But we make it.

Riverwest Currents online edition – January, 2007