This month 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. 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.
He started with a one-seat shoeshine stand in a small barber shop next to the old Rialto Theater on Jefferson Street. George charged a whopping 25 cents per shine in those early days. After moving to three other locations over the years, he settled in the South Side Bank building at the corner of Main and Adams 20 years ago. The record shows he didn’t protest, carry signs or insult authority. He achieved success and occupied Peoria by saving and investing 25 cents at a time.
George has provided his unique, “hands-on” business to the great and famous, as well as to regular folks like most of us. Who else in Peoria can say that they personally “touched” the lives of presidents, vice presidents, congressmen, senators, cabinet secretaries and the CEOs of the world’s largest earthmoving machinery company? But even more impressive is that George has day in and day out, rain or shine, good economic times and bad, opened his shop to thousands of working men—and women—who wanted that special look on their shoes as they went about their business.
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.
George is one of three children of the late Emanuel and Katina Manias. His sister, Angela, and brother, Emanuel, have also contributed to Peoria’s economic, cultural and social fabric in their own rights.
Angela has operated Angela’s Candy Shop in the Twin Towers Mall for almost 30 years. She mirrors George’s personal traits of compassion and generosity. Her economic contribution to Peoria’s downtown is impressive as she dispenses candy, nuts and popcorn five, six or seven days a week when hungry fans or guests are at Civic Center events.
There is another dimension to Angela that is even more memorable. She is a friend to so many folks who work downtown. You can always open your heart and feelings to her and receive understanding and wisdom. Her personality and genuine concern for people were developed when she and George at the most tender ages of three and four, respectively, cared for their aging grandparents—also named George and Angela Manias—back in Greece.
Upon returning to Peoria in 1946, Angela went to work at the upscale Manias Manor Hotel at the top of Knoxville hill at Pennsylvania Street. Following 12 years there, she was subsequently employed by the Hotel Père Marquette for four years. Like George, she has occupied Peoria her entire adult life.
Emanuel Manias is the third sibling and a stalwart occupier of downtown as well. Building on his notable career as a lieutenant in the Peoria County Sheriff’s Department for 31 years, Emanuel began his own private detective agency 15 years ago. Headquartered in the Twin Towers, he is able to keep track of his older brother and sister while running his own enterprise.
When you combine George’s, Angela’s and Emanuel’s years of service, it easily exceeds 140 years! They represent the very best of small, private enterprise. But more importantly, in my book, they are perfect examples of what built our great country and city. And they will keep operating their special services and contributing to Peoria’s economic base and civility for years to come.
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. iBi