The future of the City’s 17th Street Entertainment District is looking bright thanks to the persistence, courage and risk-taking of a prominent businessman, Abdala Kalifa and his family.
Abdala Kalifa and siblings are descendents of first generation immigrants from Lebanon, Elias Kalifa (grandfather), Yousef (José) Kalifa (father) and Bahige (Juanita) Kalifa (aunt). It is difficult to talk about the future without celebrating the past.
The first generation Kalifa family came to this country in the early 1920s or before, fleeing from religious and political persecution where there was slaughtering of innocent people, famine, locus infestation and many more life-threatening events. The first to immigrate was grandfather, Elias Kalifa, who later was able to send for his son, Yousef, and daughter, Bahige, after their mother, Elmosa, was murdered by Turkish invaders.
They were not educated. They did not know how to read or write nor did they know any other spoken language but their own Arabic language. Nevertheless, they found themselves aboard a cargo ship taking them wherever its destination happened to be, which was Mexico.
Eventually they made their way to South Texas where they started to make a living by peddling goods throughout the city and surrounding areas in a hand-held push cart. With a lot of hard work and determination, the business developed to a Dry Goods Store on South 17th Street. Grandfather, Elias Kalifa, was able to continue to prosper. He was able to acquire real-estate throughout the city of McAllen, but mostly around South 17th.
Other businesses were established, including Jose Kalifa Dry Goods Store at 1616 Beaumont, owned and operated by Yousef (Jose) and Evangelina Kalifa. Our aunt, Bahige along with grandfather Elias, owned and operated the original Dry Goods Store at 121 S. 17th and the Hotel at 1615 Beaumont as well as the well-known Garza’s Pharmacy originally located at 201 S. 17th. They leased out other properties in the same vicinity, which included a variety of retail stores, pharmacy, grocery store and record shop.
The Kalifa family were very grateful and always believed that God and family came first and community thereafter. They believed in hard work, helping others, getting an education, and respecting and serving our country and community. They often contributed to the growth and prosperity of the community. They felt blessed because of their success but never forgot from where they came and shared their successes with their homeland. Our grandfather, father and aunt contributed to the first schoolhouse in their village of Barhalioun, Lebanon, provided for a public mausoleum so people would have a place to be buried, contributed to the construction of the local church of St. Anthony and provided financial assistance to individuals, families, and to the community of the village of Barhalioun.
They say that the fruit does not fall far from the tree, and the Kalifa siblings soon got the business/merchant itch that is in their blood or of following a profession of serving our country and/or our community. Some of the Kalifa siblings sought careers in areas of education, nursing or armed forces. Others continued in the retail business or business ownership. They too began developing a variety of businesses such as a shoe store, baby store, grocery store, restaurant, boutique shop and to the now current Feed and Seed Store owned and operated by Leonel, Kalifa Paint Supplies Shop owned and operated by Enrique Kalifa and Kalifa’s Western Wear Store that our brother, Abdala still owns and operates.
The family continued to renew the life of the South 17th area by first remodeling some of the family owned buildings on 17th and Beaumont to the current trend of the revitalization of the 17th St. Entertainment District.
The Kalifa siblings give a special thanks to our brother, Abdala and his family for maintaining the legacy that our grandfather, Elias Kalifa, our aunt, Bahige Kalifa and our parents, Yousef and Evangelina Kalifa started.
For more ticket and reservation information regarding the Past, Present & Future event to be held on Oct. 2 at the historic Cine El Rey at 311 S. 17th St. please contact the Heart of the City offices at 956-686-4357 or email at mcallenheartofthecity.com.