By: Johnny Zapata
This story begins in 1886, thousands of miles away in the Ukrainian town of Korostyshiv in the Russian Empire, when Leebe Shaikovich, like many others before and after him, left his family behind to immigrate to the United States. His arrival exemplified the changing immigration patterns at the end of the nineteenth century, when newcomers from Southern and Easter Europe increased. Comprised mostly of Catholic and Jewish immigrants, this new wave replaced the earlier one generally made up of Protestants from Northern Europe. Like many among the huddled masses that boarded ships in the Old New World bound for the New World, Leebe’s name was changed when officials processed him on arrival in New York City. Because the immigration officer could not read Cyrillic Russian, he invented the name Louis Sakowitz ─ the name Leebe would be known by in America.
Before long, Louis was “proselyted” in New York by a group soliciting immigrants to come to Galveston, Texas. Not only was Galveston the “Pearl of the Gulf Coast” with a bustling economy, it also had a synagogue. Thus enthused, Louis boarded yet another ship, this time headed for Texas. Robert Sakowitz recalls his grandfather Tobias saying that his father and his brother Samuel came to America first and worked as peddlers, before Louis sent for his wife, Leah, and their other children: Simon, Rebecca, and Tobias. Upon landing at the Port of Galveston, the Sakowitz family could not imagine the impact that they and their descendants would have on their new home.
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This Houston Arts and Media video demonstrates why Sakowitz was the place to shop at in Downtown Houston.
Before this article, Houston History students first created a video showcasing Sakowitz’s important to the city’s retail industry during the twentieth century.