This month’s iBi continues a wonderful tradition, initiated five years ago, to recognize individuals who have made outstanding contributions to Peoria’s quality of life. It has been my privilege to know many of these unique people over the years. And once again, iBi has chosen five remarkable citizens. Let me begin by thanking each of them for their personal, professional and civic achievements. It is not my intention to slight any of them by sharing some thoughts of my trusted friendship with—and admiration for—George Manias.
Upon learning that George was among those selected as Local Legends this year, I revisited an article I wrote several years ago called “Occupy Peoria: The Manias Way.” The opening sentence reads:
“This month [December 2011] marks a significant milestone in Peoria. It was December 6th, 65 years ago, that a young man from a proud, yet humble family who had immigrated to Peoria from Greece started what would become a Peoria legend.”
You’ll recall that in September 2011, there were protests labeled “Occupy Wall Street,” which basically challenged the American way of wealth creation, economic growth and private enterprise. It got me thinking that the protesters had a somewhat limited frame of reference. The article went on to say:
“At age 15, he made a commitment to ‘occupy Peoria’ the old-fashioned way—the American way. It was (and still is, in my book) characterized by hard work, long hours, modest compensation and superior personal service. This traditional approach to creating capital was served up with a generous dose of kindness, charity and sincere concern for people and their community.
It will be of no surprise to iBi readers that I’m talking about George Manias, who has been ‘occupying’ downtown Peoria since 1946. His business, of course, is shining shoes and cleaning hats, and over the years, his name and reputation became synonymous with Peoria.”
The wonderful interview with George in this month’s issue, along with the other Legends, provides inspiring background and personal experiences about what it takes to succeed. One distinction about George is that he hasn’t stopped working.
Beginning in 1946, when his family resided in public housing on Peoria’s far southwest side, George began shining shoes—first at 15 cents, then a whopping quarter! On many days, he would walk the 3.2 miles from Harrison Homes to the small barber shop next to the old Rialto Theater, where he had a one-seat shoeshine stand. (For those not old enough to know, the Rialto faced Jefferson Street approximately where the street entrance to the Peoria Civic Center is located.)
Fast forward to 2018, and on December 6th George will celebrate 72 years of continuous personal enterprise and dedication to quality workmanship. And he’s not at all embarrassed to say that at age 87 his goal, one day at a time, is to continue putting Peoria’s best foot forward. In revisiting my 2011 article, I felt the following is instructional for today’s generation:
“It is truly remarkable that in his 65 years of industrious enterprise, George has shined close to one million pairs of shoes. He has been a continuous, dependable occupant of downtown Peoria. Until seven years ago , he was open on Saturdays from 7am until 7pm—or longer! Those who want to see grass-roots capitalism at work need look no further than George Manias.”
I have to laugh a little when I recall some negative feedback I received from the 2011 article. A couple younger folks, not from Peoria, were offended at my “insensitivity” to Occupy Wall Street protests. But true to his kindness and concern for others, George was sorry that an article about him caused me to get some flak. He is an incredibly feeling and generous man!
So, here in July 2018, George is still open for business, albeit not from 7am until 7pm! His shop in the former Central Bank/South Side Bank building at the corner of Main and Adams is his fifth location—and he’s been there for 27 years. And while the styles and selection of shoes and apparel have changed over the years, along with the volume of pedestrian traffic downtown, he’s looking forward to OSF headquarters relocating across the street… and the hundreds of jobs (and shoes) that will bring downtown.
George’s story is best told by himself, as you will read a few pages hence. One final quality of this true Peoria legend is his total dedication and love for family. He is very proud of his sister Angela’s ownership and operation of Angela’s Candy Shop in the Twin Towers Mall. She’s been at it for over 37 years! His brother Emanuel, the youngest of the three children, has operated a private detective agency for 22 years, and prior to that had 31 years experience in the Peoria County Sheriff’s Department. I will conclude by repeating the final paragraph of my 2011 article:
“George has been locally and nationally recognized for many years, having been featured in USA Today and on NBC’s Today Show. Perhaps if the national media would focus a bit more on industrious, hard-working people like George, Angela and Emanuel, the Wall Street and kindred occupiers might learn a thing or two about the creation and distribution of wealth through decades of hard work—provided within a value system of honesty, trust, respect, faith, decency and community commitment.”
God bless George, Angela, Emanuel and Peoria! iBi