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IMMIGRANT SOCIETIES AND INSTITUTIONS.
Mercantile houses-Newspapers-Systems of control-Churches and church work.
A peculiar form of business organization exists among the aliens both in the immigrant sections of the towns and in Hungary Hollow. It consists in uniting under one head all the different forms of business enterprise which are conducted in the community and really embodies the attempt on the part of one business house to satisfy all the wants of the people. One concern not only supplies bread, meat, clothes, and other necessities of life, but also intoxicants, dance halls, summer gardens, billiard and pool halls, banking facilities, and even the weekly newspaper. Profits are secured from supplying the whole possible scale of wants on the part of the alien population.
These business organizations are termed "mercantile houses," and they consist of a number of separate enterprises united under one central management somewhat like an American holding company with subsidiary corporations. In the case of the mercantile houses, the business of the concern centers in the banks. These banks, which are practically only one part of the firm's business, act as a central point of management, as a clearing house, and as a means of coordinating all the different interests of the concern. The businesses are not incorporated and are usually owned by one man or a group of men under an informal partnership. A typical house of this description will own a number of brick buildings, located perhaps in different sections but usually grouped together, the ground floors of which are used to house its different stores and enterprises, and the upper floors-sometimes containing more than 50 rooms are rented for living purposes. The extent of the business conducted may be seen from an examination of the following list of undertakings which may be owned and managed by a typical mercantile house:
The stores of these concerns, especially the grocery stores, are as good if not better than the average American store, and the saloons are the counterpart of the average American saloon. The bakeries turn out Bulgarian bread-a loaf weighing 4 pounds-and have a
capacity of 400 to 700 loaves per day. So far as the real estate business is concerned, the mercantile house of course rents its own living rooms, and those in Hungary Hollow usually own a number of cottages and act as agents for American real estate firms which have extensive holdings in adjacent lands and cottages. The steamshipagency element in the business is simply an agency for selling transportation on the different Atlantic steamship lines, for which the mercantile houses receive a commission. It is commonly stated however, that, by taking advantage of his ignorance, they also charge the purchaser of the ticket a commission.
The coffeehouses are of the same kind as those found in other alien localities and are modeled after similar institutions in Europe. They are intended to cater to the tastes and habits of the Bulgarians, Armenians, and Roumanians who do not patronize the American saloon or drink intoxicants after the manner of the Germans, Austrians, Magyars, and the members of other races. The coffeehouses are usually large, well-lighted rooms, furnished with small tables and plain chairs. Tobacco in all its forms, including even the Turkish pipe, is to be had, and tea, coffee, cider, soft drinks, and ice cream are served. The walls are decorated with cheap pictures of representative men and women, scenes, and events in Macedonia and Bulgaria. A phonograph is always at hand. These institutions are primarily a place of rendezvous and social resort for the alien population. They tend to retard Americanization by segregating the alien population, and preventing contact with Americans and American habits, and in preserving Old World customs and institutions.
The immigrant bank, as mentioned before, is the central accounting and executive office of the mercantile house. All the individual accounts are here brought together from the various subsidiary concerns and collected. The steamship and real estate agency is also conducted in direct connection with it. In addition to these functions a banking business is carried on somewhat similar to the American system of banking. Deposits are received subject to check upon the usual American plan. A copy of the deposit slip in general use is presented herewith:
Close working connections are maintained with similar institutions in Indianapolis, Chicago, and New York, and with some banks abroad or some foreign banking association. By means of these connections, bills of exchange are sold and cashed on all domestic and foreign points. Checks of alien laborers are also cashed. The deposits come not only from the immigrants residing in the community but from others in all parts of the country, even as far west as the Pacific Coast. The methods by which they are made productive could not be clearly ascertained. The custom seems to be to lend the funds to aliens engaged in business undertakings in the locality, to use them in the business of the concern itself, or to lend them to other immigrant and foreign banks. As the recent immigrant is likely to be thrifty, his savings in the aggregate are considerable and are allowed to accumulate from month to month without being subject to numerous drafts. The profits arising from the control and use of these savings are a large item in the combined profits of the mercantile houses. The extent of the deposits may be judged from the fact that one of the largest immigrant banks in Hungary Hollow usually carries $25,000 in deposits.
These banking establishments are equipped with all the modern facilities, including adding machines and typewriters with the characters of the Bulgarian alphabet. While they usually have large safes, they are without vaults and the cash reserve is usually deposited in American banks in the community. A large number of the banks are conducted by men who have had experience in practical banking in Bulgaria or Turkey. There are some small banks of a crude "wild cat" sort. They are not responsible institutions, but are practically controlled by one person in whom other aliens have confidence and with whom they leave their money for safekeeping. The person or banker receiving the money usually puts it into some business in which he is interested. A number of such banks, at the outbreak of the recent industrial depression, were unable to return the money left with them and were discredited. Another banker of the same kind used the money which he received in building a large mercantile house which he failed to conduct successfully and which is now in the hands of his creditors.
Each mercantile house operates in conjunction with its other business one or more saloons. These saloons in their appointments and in the liquors sold are a reproduction of the American institution. In addition to the bar there is usually a large open space filled with tables and chairs, and the larger part of the patronage comes from those who occupy these seats. A billiard and pool room-usually pool tables alone is operated by the saloon keeper either in the same or an adjoining room. A large part of the business of the saloon arises from the sale of intoxicants usually beer-in quantities to the aliens of all nationalities who are in the habit of drinking beer with their food. The direct patronage of the saloon comes from the Austrian, Servian, and Magyar, and to a less extent the Croatian. These races drink in saloons and are also the cause of a great deal of disorder. The Bulgarians as a rule do not drink in saloons except on holidays or special occasions. They consume beer chiefly with their meals at home.
Under normal conditions each individual member of these races will drink from two to four bottles of beer per day.
The mercantile houses also go so far as to provide facilities for amusement and recreation. The greater number of them have in their building large assembly halls, containing a small stage with scenery and equipment of the usual kind. Amateur and regular performances are given on these stages. Each week there is also a dance, and the dance and play are usually given together. In one corner of the room a bar is located and the mercantile house sells drinks of all kinds during the play or the dance. In addition to its saloon and dance hall, one mercantile house conducts a summer garden during the warm weather. There all nationalities are said to mingle together, drink and talk, and sing the songs of their native countries. American amusement resorts, such as moving-picture exhibitions and the theater, are also patronized by the immigrant. In their homes and rooms one or more men are usually found who can play on some musical instrument of their native country. Often these musicians gather together in groups to form a sort of band and play together in the streets of the foreign section or in their quarters. There was no direct evidence to the effect that the mercantile houses were conducting employment agencies and the managers of the various houses vigorously denied that they were engaged in this
At the same time it was evident that they were the potent factors in controlling public opinion, and in bringing about the constant changes in the population or the labor supply. They acted in an advisory capacity, to say the least, in writing and providing means for aliens to come to the community. In these services they claimed they were acting in a disinterested way. It was apparent, however, that the existence of a large and more or less stable labor supply added greatly to the profits of their business. Whether, in addition, any fee was charged for securing employment for their countrymen, was not discovered. There is no doubt that all the mercantile house managers kept themselves informed as to the demand for labor in other localities-especially in railroad construction work-and that correspondence with contractors who were desirous of securing workmen was carried on by the mercantile establishments. The usual procedure was to make known privately or at a public meeting the contents of these letters and to advise with the men as regards accepting work elsewhere.
A number of private labor agents were also encountered. Several Chicago and Cincinnati labor agencies published advertisements in the alien press and had representatives in the community.
No detailed information was sought as to the profits of mercantile establishments, but several examples of their rapid expansion of business and the extent of their property holdings will throw considerable light upon this point. One of the leading establishments in Hungary Hollow was started four years ago by a Bulgarian, an ordinary unskilled laborer, who had saved $90. This was the original capital invested. The company now operates a grocery and dry goods store, a coffee house, bakery, saloon, and bank, steamship and other agencies, and rents about 100 rooms. Its business is housed in one large brick building, one stone building, and one frame building. These buildings have been paid for out of the profits of the business and are worth about $40,000. The company also owns eight cottages, valued at $1,500 each, and which are also paid for.