Beneath a pile of hay, approximately 6,500 miles away from Slaton in the early 1900s Abe Kessel’s story begins.
According to Slaton’s Story, the man who began the successful variety store Kessel’s Five and Dime, had to escape the militant Czar of Russia. “While there was no draft board as such in Russia, it was a foregone conclusion that all young men would serve in the Russian Army upon reaching the age of 18,” Milton Kessel wrote in Slaton’s Story. “The coming of Abe’s 18th birthday coincided with the awareness by the authorities of his participation in the underground movement,” he wrote.
It is believed Abe, as a teenager, took part in publishing an underground newspaper, protesting the stern rule of the Czar of Russia. Huddled with three others at the bottom of a load of hay, Abe Kessel was able to leave Russia alive, “in spite of being speared by a Russian border guard wielding a pitchfork into the hay,” Milton wrote. A distant uncle in New York arranged passage from Germany to the United States, “agreeing to meet him at the port of debarkation,” Milton wrote.
Of course, according to Milton, New York would prove to be too hard for Abe. In 1908, Abe adopted his new homeland but as an immigrant who was unable to speak the language, the city became taxing on him. So, in 1912, he decided to leave the city and stay with another uncle in Birmingham, Alabama.
It would be, in 1915, after Abe had met his wife Minnie Olim and had their first son, a letter would pique Abe’s interest. “A brother-in-law wrote him of the many opportunities in West Texas,” Milton wrote.
In 1922, Abe and his family moved to Slaton. A year later, in 1923, “Abe and a Mr. Kolodyiejsyzk got together and built two modern store buildings on Texas Avenue on the main street of the depot,” Milton wrote. “The 1920’s were good years for the Kessel family. Other dry goods stores opened in Slaton, but few stayed.”
In 1927, the Kessel family purchased their first vehicle, a Chavrolet, and in 1929, the family became the first in Slaton to become a two-car family.
In 1935 Abe opened Kessel’s Five and Dime Store on the north side of the square. One year later, he opened his second variety store in Levelland. A third variety store was opened one year later in Roswell, New Mexico. “Operating five stores was a heavy responsibility on Abe,” Milton wrote, “but because he had unusual physical strength and well being and a seeming immunity to sickness, and a genuine desire for success and family security, Abe knew no set time limitation on a day’s work. It was not unusual for him to arise at seven, open the main store by eight thirty, close at six thirty, eat a quick supper and return to the store to work until midnight or after.”
In 1938, Abe would find another lucrative investment. It was during the summer of 1938 that many predicted a better-than-average season for cotton.
“Merchants expected a heavy influx of cotton-pickers by September 15 and a booming fall business. Abe figured that he would sell over 2,500 cotton sacks during the season, and the thought occurred to him that since he could operate a sewing machine that he might save some money by making his own sacks,” Milton wrote. Abe bought 18 bales of “duck”, thread, and set out to make his fall supply of sacks.
He made, on average, 40 sacks a night. “$10 saved each night in 1938 was sometimes more than he made while the store was open during the day,” Milton wrote.
In 1951, retiring from business, Abe sold the Levelland and Slaton Variety Stores. “By hard work and by saving, he had realized a measure of success,” Milton wrote. “He left no debts monetarily, and he hoped none morally. Slaton had been good to Abe Kessel and he would always hope that he had been good for Slaton.”