Abstract: Why Do Arabs Own So Many Grocery Stores? Clan Affiliation in Business Ownership in Flint, Michigan

Hani Bawardi


This paper traces grocery retailing by Arabic-speaking immigrants over four generations in Flint, Michigan. Familial connections account for the domination of grocery retailing by enclaves of primary immigrant groups with village, sectarian, and familial connections or a combination of the above. Despite these ties, the grocery store setting is a highly structured and formalized business enterprise. Peddlers and traveling salesmen from the 1890s through the 1910s are responsible for the immigrants' entry in the business. In Flint, these families dominated the business in the interwar years: Farah, Khouri, Mansour, and Hamady. These dynasties faded with the sale of the last of the Hamady chain in 1975 and the gradual transition into real-estate developments and other pursuits—however, not before they facilitated entry into the business of seven individuals who immigrated in the 1950s and 1960s. These immigrants mentored a generation of grocery store owners, and by the 1980s Arab immigrants owned 98 percent of all grocery stores in Flint. At present, they own 96 grocery stores while Asian immigrants from India own eight stores. The major immigrant groups currently active in business listed in the order of most stored owned by country of origin: Palestinians from the West Bank city of Beit Sahour and Israel proper, Chaldeans from the city of Telkeif, Iraq; Lebanese, and a mixture of Indians, Jordanians, and a single Egyptian.