The Basha Family

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Description

A Lebanese immigrant family moved to Arizona in 1910 and began a mercantile operation that would grow into more than 150 grocery stores statewide. The family experienced loss in the early years, but a strong work ethic and sense of pride instilled by Najeeb and Najeeby Basha produced one of Arizona's most well known businesses.  

Transcript

Narrator: It's a weekly chore for most of us, shopping for groceries. One Arizona supermarket traces its roots to territorial times, to a Lebanese immigrant family pursuing the American dream.

Eddie Basha, Jr.: My grandfather's name was Najeeb Basha, and he was from Baalbek, Lebanon. My grandmother was Najeeby Basha, and she came from Zahle in Lebanon. Like most of the Lebanese immigrants, they immigrated to New York.

Narrator: Najeeb and Najeeby married in 1901. A few years later, Najeeby's only sister, Wadia, moved with her husband, Abraham, to the mining town of Congress, Arizona.

Camille Donaldson: For many years, Wadia would write to her sister and tell her about all these wonderful opportunities out west.

Narrator: Najeeb brought the family to Arizona in 1910. They established a general mercantile store in the mining town of Ray. When a fire damaged the store, they moved to the neighboring town of Sonora and began their business again. In 1919, the Bashas relocated to the valley and expanded their business with a second store in Chandler. Najeeb and his oldest daughter, Edna, managed the store in Sonora, while Najeeby and the other children ran the Boston Store in Chandler.

Connie Basha Vitale: Well, mother would get up in the morning and open the store. Then my father, who had diabetes, came in later, and then she'd go back home and take care of us. We'd go to the store and I’d have certain cases that had to be wiped off or something like that. But we were always kept busy.

Narrator: In 1929, with the advent of the Depression, hard times befell the family. They closed the Sonora store, and Najeeb died in 1932.

Camille Donaldson: They had in the bank $600. That was their total family worth in 1932. And they knew that they just had to all get behind and pull together.

Eddie Basha, Jr.: It was then that my dad and my uncle Ike learned of this opportunity here in Goodyear to open a store that had been vacant.

Narrator: The Goodyear store, located south of Chandler, earned $11,000 its first year. It was at this time that success brought a new name. The family called their two stores "Bashas'." Across the street from the downtown Chandler store, grocer George Y. Wah enjoyed steady business. The Basha women noticed his fortune.

Connie Basha Vitale: Mother said, "Just think, Camille. We've been here standing on our feet all day and we've only taken in a nickel." And Camille says, "Yeah, mother, we're kind of foolish, aren't we?" She says, "Mama, why don't we buy sacks of beans and sugar and all that and we'll pack them in smaller bags and then gradually let the people that come into the store know that they can buy sugar here." We started doing that and then handling groceries and meats and turned it into a grocery store slowly but happily.

Narrator: In the late 1930s, the family opened grocery stores in Mesa, Phoenix, and on the Gila River Indian Reservation. A decade later, Bashas' stores appeared in farming communities like Eloy and Casa Grande. All the Basha children worked in some capacity in the family business, with their mother Najeeby at the head.

Eddie Basha, Jr.: Well, I would say that my dad and my Uncle Ike were the co-managers of the business, but nothing substantive, in my opinion, ever occurred without consultation with my grandmother.

Narrator: The Basha daughters held important responsibilities. Larice, who worked as a teacher, stepped into the role of product buyer after Ike joined the Army during World War II. Camille was company treasurer, and other sisters worked in various stores.

Connie Basha Vitale: And I was elected to manage the Mesa store, so that I’d have to get up at 5:00 in the morning, every morning, and open the store in Mesa.

Camille Donaldson: She managed that store on Jefferson. I remember working there myself. And I would pack beans and rice and bag potatoes and bag groceries.

Narrator: Soon, the business focus shifted to larger stores in the valley. Based on the Vons Supermarket model in California, Bashas' unveiled a new format in 1956, located at Seventh Avenue and Osborn. It is now the oldest continuously operating Bashas' store in the state.

Eddie Basha, Jr.: There was an enlarged delicatessen department that didn't exist in Chandler or Mesa or Scottsdale. It was a dual development in that there was Bashas' and there was Skaggs Drug Store.

Narrator: The deaths of key family members in the '50s and ‘60s brought the third generation of Bashas into leadership roles, such as Eddie, Jr., who now serves as the company's Chairman of the Board. Eddie recalls how his Uncle Ike ordered him to work at the Chandler store on his first day of summer vacation.

Eddie Basha, Jr. My God! I couldn't believe what he said. I went home and I told my mother, I said, "Mom, Uncle Ike told me that I have to go to the store and go to work. I’m 11 years old." And I had all my summer planned. I was going to listen to this radio station, the Green Hornet and Wanted and all those programs. And I had a neat little bedroom there. And I mean, God, it was all set. And she said, "Well, honey, if your Uncle Ike said that you have to go to work, you've got to go to work." I started to cry. I didn't want to go to work. Anyway...I ended up going to work. And that was the beginning. And it never ended.

Narrator: Nearly 90 years after the family opened a mercantile store in Chandler, the company includes more than 150 supermarkets statewide. The success of the Basha family represents the importance of immigrants' contributions to Arizona.

Eddie Basha, Jr.: Arizona is a repository for immigrants from all over: Mexican miners from Mexico, Jewish merchants from California and the east coast, Lebanese people, the Anglo people that came, the farmers, the miners, the railroad people, the cowboys. My grandparents are no different, they're just one of those strands that flowed into this hub which is today Arizona.