Nick Ioannidis, widely known in this city as Nick the Greek, says he is proud to be an immigrant and an American citizen. And he shows it.
He calls his tailor shop Nick the Greek in America. Hanging from the ceiling is a chandelier with 50 red, white and blue light bulbs, each holding a miniature flag of one of the 50 states. Flags of the 13 colonies adorn a wall, accompanied by photos of current governors of the 13 states and letters they have sent him.
A ceramic-tile seal of the city of Huntington Park is roped off like a museum display in the middle of the store’s floor at 2669 Gage Ave.
The voice of Kate Smith, singing “God Bless America,” wafts through the store, ending a 90-minute cassette of American melodies.
Today, Ioannidis plans to erect three flagpoles outside his store. He will use the poles to fly the flags of the United Nations, California and Huntington Park alongside the American flag, which already is in place.
Ioannidis, 53, is making elaborate preparations to celebrate National Immigrants Day on Friday--the date selected last year by Congress to recognize this country’s immigrants. The date is the anniversary of France’s donation of the Statue of Liberty to the United States in 1886.
“We think this is a significant day because we’re all immigrants, except for the American Indian,” said Huntington Park Mayor James W. Parks, who presented Ioannidis with a proclamation honoring immigrants in the city and holding Oct. 28 as a day of recognition for all immigrants.
“Nick is the only one in the city that’s doing anything,” the mayor said. “He’s a very dedicated person.”
Ioannidis came to the United States from Greece in 1969, with his wife, Tessie, and their three children, after his sister, who had lived here for several years, “told me what a beautiful country this was.” Arriving in Huntington Park with 25 cents in his pocket and speaking virtually no English, he found a $102-a-week job as a tailor at a May Co. store. Two years later, he had saved enough money to open his own tailor shop on Seville Avenue in Huntington Park. In 1979, he moved his store to Gage Avenue where he intends to remain.
The Greek immigrant has been working seriously on the celebration since his 13th anniversary last April as an American citizen. After purchasing two of the three flagpoles due to be erected today from the city for $20 each, Ioannidis set out to meet all the city’s standards for erecting them. And he bought the flags that he will hoist on Friday.
The response to his effort to make the day special for all immigrants has been scattered, but Rep. Augustus F. Hawkins (D-Huntington Park) and Assistant City Administrator Craig Robinson are expected to appear at the 11 a.m. celebration in front of the store.
“Nick wanted to do this on his own,” said Mayor Jack W. Parks. “He really didn’t want any commercial involvement because he’s doing it from his heart. That’s the reason we sold him the flagpoles.”
Ioannidis spent about $3,000 on the celebration. A banner across his store’s front window reads: “The Country Celebrates National Immigrants Day--Friday, October 28. Everyone is welcome.”
“It is a day for all immigrants--old and new--to come to this country together as brothers and sisters, to belong to the country,” Ioannidis said in soft choppy English, glancing over his shoulder at four specially made red, white and blue suits hanging on the wall. On Friday, he plans to wear one of the outfits, with a pair of red patent leather wing-tipped shoes.
He sent letters to the governors of each of the 50 states as well as to nearly a dozen foreign dignitaries, inviting them to the celebration. While each politely declined, their letters were elaborate and applauded his intentions.
“The U.S. says welcome everyone and anyone,” Ioannidis said. “Everyone can have their own custom, their own things and that makes it very important for the immigrant.”
The tailor said his store will be open all day for people to visit. His future plans are to add more memorabilia to his shop to make it a mini-museum.
” America has given to me the opportunities and open roads and I give to others, to everyone for them to enjoy my happiness in this country,” he said.