Stepping inside Abraham Bros. is like taking trip back in time|[07/13/08]

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 12, 2008

In a world where finding an unusual antique is only a click away, Abraham Bros. Department Store in downtown Vicksburg is an oasis of rare things.

“I love taking special orders for people who can’t find things elsewhere,” said Frances Thomas, whose father, Haseeb George Abraham, opened the store March 13, 1928.

Abraham’s wares include men’s work clothes, with waists up to 72 inches, women’s cotton slips, 100 percent cotton handkerchiefs and men’s hats.

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“I’ve got the Western khaki pants that people come from California to buy,” Thomas said.

Abraham, a Lebanese immigrant, came to America in 1920. His father first settled in Greenville before being drawn to Vicksburg.

“My granddaddy bought a little grocery store on Pearl Street and told them (Thomas’ father and uncle) that whatever they made out of the store was all he could give them,” Thomas said.

Abraham and his brother, Nageeb Abraham, went on to buy the store at 1105 Washington St., where Abraham’s is now located. Eventually Thomas’ father bought his brother out, although “brothers” remains part of the name.

For a while, the Abrahams lived above the store, which at one time extended into what is now the Biedenharn Candy Co. and Museum of Coca-Cola Memorabilia. Thomas was born upstairs.

Abraham worked until he was 87, watching customers come in and out of his store from what Thomas calls his “throne,” a brown leather chair with a direct view of the door. He died in 1996, leaving a legacy of hard work, quality clothing and antique Beaver Hat hatboxes.

“We carried very good clothes,” Thomas said. “Daddy never sold anything cheap because customers were poor and he felt that they deserved good quality. Being an immigrant, he just appreciated that this is the finest country in the world-and I wish everyone felt that way.”

The antique hatboxes that sit along Abraham’s shelves were featured in the Coen Brothers’ 2000 hit movie “O Brother Where Art Thou,” and Thomas helped stock the movie set with them.

Abraham and his wife, Maggie Habeeb Abraham, worked “side by side for years. They were of that wonderful character that their family was so important,” Thomas said.

Thomas’ brother, Charles Abraham, followed in his father’s footsteps and opened Charles’ Department Store in the 1300 block of Washington Street. The store closed about four years ago.

‘People still walk in and say it brings back memories of when they were young. It’s still set up the way it’s always been.’ROBERT MORRISONABRAHAM BROS. EMPLOYEE”He’s retired – which I should be at age 76,” Thomas said, laughing.

Robert Morrison, who works at Abraham’s and was employed at Charles’ for 32 years, understands the Abraham family ethic.

“They’ve always treated their customers very well – like family themselves,” he said. “People still walk in and say it brings back memories of when they were young. It’s still set up the way it’s always been.”

Thomas stays because she loves the people and the chance meetings they bring. She has one customer who is about 80 years old, who comes in every year and buys two pairs of overalls, she said. Tourists stop by often, as well.

“I had a couple from Australia and I asked him, ‘Where in Australia?’ and he said, ‘Northern Australia.’ So I said, ‘Which part?’ and he said ‘Queensland.’ Well, it turns out I have some cousins in Queensland and they socialize (together),” she said.

Small world.

With all the special orders, Thomas has gotten a few peculiar calls. The “weirdest thing,” she said, was a woman from Texas who visited Abraham’s on a trip, then called back to request a red gown and robe set she saw in the store. She had fallen in love with it and wanted to be buried in it, Thomas said.

Thomas shipped it.

“It’s that personal touch we love,” she said.