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Sami Guedoir on downtown, Tunisia & what counts in life

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Sami Guedoir on downtown, Tunisia & what counts in life

Adib Guedoir helps his father price the furniture inside of his Downtown Manteca store.

JASON CAMPBELL/The Bulletin


POSTED April 7, 2012 1:17 a.m.

NAME: Sami Guedoir

JOB: Owner, Century Furniture

BORN: Maharas, Tunisia. “It’s known to be the capital of the Plastic Arts in Tunisia. There’s an annual festival and I was so thrilled with the work of Dave Gordon – the muralist that painted the first Manteca mural on the side of my building – that I invited him to come over. I looked at it as a chance to build bridges between the two cultures. He left such a great impression, and his work still stands there today.”

WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO THE UNITED STATES?: “I came over on a business visa in 1989– at the time I owned an import and export company. One of the things that I dealt in was agricultural products and I came to the Central Valley because of that. I decided to stay and move my family here – we started in San Francisco and moved to Fairfield, Sacramento and Santa Rosa. Initially I discovered Manteca by going to the waterslides, and It reminded me of where I grew up. I really liked the people, and when I found a vacant building on this corner, I took advantage of the opportunity.”

WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM YOUR PARENTS?: “Patience. The fact that you have a lot to do with the outcome of your life.”

BEST THING TO EVER HAPPEN TO YOU: “The birth of my children. Everything about yourself – your entire worldview – is different when you don’t have kids. All that you’re worried about is yourself. The second that you have children that changes and start to see the other people around you.”

AS THE PRESIDENT OF THE TUNISIAN COMMUNITY CENTER – THE NON-PROFIT THAT AIMS AT FOSTERING CULTURAL OUTREACH FOR TUNISIAN-AMERICANS – WHAT MOTIVATES YOU?: “For me it’s about community building and cultural outreach and creating something that will bring people together. It’s an organization that benefits Tunisian-Americans and students and the numbers might not be very high – I think at the last count we had 12,000 Tunisian-Americans living here – it shows that we still have something to offer.”

WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE ADVANTAGE OF REPRESENTING AN ISLAMIC COUNTRY LIKE TUNISIA?: “Tunisia represents moderate Islam – the way I grew up with it and the way it should be. Being in North Africa and so close to Europe, the land has a big history of being open with lots of civilizations – Carthaginians and Romans – that have left imprints and that’s how Tunisia came about.”

WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO SEE THE “ARAB SPRING” BEGIN IN YOUR NATIVE COUNTRY AND HOW SPECIAL WAS IT TO CAST A DEMOCRATIC BALLOT ONCE THE DUST SETTLED?: “It was something that was way overdue. The Tunisian population is very mature and are highly educated people and have always believed something was missing. I feel very fortunate to have been able to have lived during that moment – when people were able to topple a dictator in a relatively peaceful fashion. And getting the chance to vote was a beautiful moment. I’ve always looked for that to happen, and when we went to San Francisco to cast the ballots we brought our sons along who were all born in the United States and take these kinds of things for granted. I wanted them to be able to appreciate what they have by seeing how important this was to the people of Tunisia.”

FAVORITE MOVIE: “I like the big special effects and things like that, so I’d have to say Titanic.”

FAVORITE ACTOR AND WHY: “Robert De Niro. I just love the movies he’s in.”

HOBBIES AND INTERESTS: “I’ve become a San Francisco 49ers fan, but I grew up following the Tunisian soccer teams – I still have my favorite. And when the World Cup comes around I have two teams that I root for – the Tunisian National Team and the United States. It’s great having two teams to follow.”

WHAT’S THE MOST CHALLENGING THING ABOUT BEING A SMALL BUSINESS OWNER?: “Sometimes against all of the odds you have to take a shot on the unknown. There’s nothing to fall back on and you just have to believe that you made the right choice.”

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE CURRENT STATUS OF BUSINESS IN DOWNTOWN?: “I think that downtown has survived the worst of it. At one point everyone has given up on downtown, but I think that if we just land one or two quality businesses it’ll bring the traffic that we need and will attract other businesses. Business attracts business and I really think that it’s possible for the turnaround that people have been waiting for.”

WHAT WAS IT LIKE GETTING TO MEET PRESIDENT OBAMA THROUGH YOUR WORK WITH THE TUNISIAN COMMUNITY CENTER?: “Two things come to mind. First – good work pays off. The TCC has been very active in building relationships between the two cultures and the two nations, and having that recognized was special. Being rewarded with a historic meeting at The White House with the President and the First Lady was something I’ll never forget. America gives these chances to everyone, and I’m very grateful.”

WHAT IS YOUR GOAL WHEN YOU WAKE UP IN THE MORNING?: “To go to bed healthy and to wake up healthy.”

BEST GIFT YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED?: “I don’t keep track of monetary gifts anymore, so I’d have to say having my three boys – Amir, Anis and Adib.”

WHAT DO YOU FEEL MANTECA IS LACKING?: “I definitely think that it could use a decent dining area. And one thing I never could understand is that with so many people living in this region – between Stockton, Modesto, Tracy Manteca and the surrounding communities we have a million people living here – we’ve never been served by a proper airport. Maybe that’s something that will come.”

WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IS THE KEY FOR THE FUTURE OF DOWNTOWN MANTECA IS?: “I think that it’s important to keep up on what’s going on with other shopping centers in the community and see what is working for them – parking, facilities and things like that. I think that merchants that draw in foot traffic are what is really needed for the future. All we need is one big merchant and that’s enough to bring both customers and other merchants as well.”

Jason Campbell

Staff reporter

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