The Story Behind the New Lincoln Mural in Oak Park
(Cheryl Weiss, Oct. 23, 2019)
Oak Park, MI – A vibrant inspirational mural at the corner of Lincoln and Coolidge in Oak Park, on the historic Lincoln Liquor & Rx building is the first outdoor mural in the city. The mural features the face of Abraham Lincoln, patriotic red and white stripes with white stars on blue, and the quote, “…and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
The mural was created over the summer by local artist Howard Fridson. It is not only a celebration of equality, freedom, and welcome, but a symbol of a new beginning for Lincoln Liquor & Rx.
Pharmacy owner Marwan Isa explained that the idea of the mural began when Lincoln Liquor store owners Yanni Yaldo and Francis Yaldo took over ownership; they wanted to do something about the wall. “Lincoln had to change,” he said. As many may remember, the pharmacy was abruptly closed in April 2018 when long-time pharmacist and pharmacy owner Allan Passerman sold the pharmacy and retired with no notice to customers, employees, or owners of the rest of the store. As a result, the pharmacy had to be relocated to a different location within the store, so the Yaldos, along with Isa, took on a major construction project, reconfiguring the store and relocating the pharmacy within the store. The name of the store was changed from Lincoln Drugs to Lincoln Liquor & Rx. Signage needed to be new as well. The mural took Lincoln’s rebirth one step further.
First, they had a meeting with City of Oak Park staff to discuss what they were permitted to do with the wall. They discussed a mural but did not know what the theme would be. Francis Yaldo was a student at Oak Park High School at the time and asked his art teacher for suggestions. That led to the idea of a Lincoln connection. The store is on Lincoln Street, the store is named Lincoln….it fit perfectly. The teacher drew the mural idea on paper, which Yaldo kept while they searched for an artist.
Isa met Fridson at Chanu-Con, an annual Chanukkah event at Congregaion Beth Shalom in Oak Park. Fridson had a table there, and Jeanne Porter Milstein, a Lincoln Liquor & Rx regular customer, connected them. Fridson and Isa discussed the project, and Fridson came to Lincoln Liquor & Rx the next day to talk with Yanni and Francis. They agreed to make it happen.
Once approval was granted for the project from the City of Oak Park, they moved forward. It took a few months to get started, due to the weather. Once the warm weather returned to Michigan, Fridson began the process of transforming a plain white wall to an inspirational mural that draws attention from residents and commuters in the area.
Fridson worked for approximately six weeks on the mural. “He was a trooper,” said Isa. Working six hours a day, almost every day, in the strong summer heat, the wall became a conversation piece. At least an hour a day, Fridson chatted with people stopping by to talk and compliment him on his work. He’s so passionate, talented. He worked under excessive temperatures and he was out there for hours.” “It’s absolutely beautiful!” Isa praised.” He added with a laugh, “I was jealous, though; he got the nicest tan!”
When asked why it was so important to have a mural and provide a work of art for the community, Isa said, “The store was here since 1955. When I started here in 2012, I started building relationships with my customers, and it’s even more important now, as the owner of the pharmacy. I saw how the people in the Oak Park, Huntington Woods, and Berkley communities are beautiful, strong, and connected. They always try to help each other. When people heard about the pharmacy closing, they thought the store would close too. This is an iconic store for the community. If it didn’t mean a lot, they would bot be supporting us. They kept coming to check on us, to see what was happening during the time we were closed. Thank God it turned out that people liked the remodel, and the pharmacy is back again.”
Isa went on to share why relationships matter to him. “There is a strong bond between us and our customers. When people come to the pharmacy, it means something is going on with them. We try to absorb that pressure. We want our customers to walk out happy. That’s how we are different from other stores. Everyone is welcomed here. One customer has a mom who is 102 years old, and lives in West Bloomfield. They come here for an item they could not find elsewhere. It made them so happy that we could help them, and that made us happy.” The mural is a way for Isa and the Yaldos to add happiness to the community, just by passing their business. It brings hope, inspiration, and joy to the area; a way to give back for the loyalty they have received over the years, especially the last couple years. “When I see people happy, I am happy too,” Isa said.
Lincoln Liquor & Rx is different from chain stores. They can be flexible and accommodate individual needs. For example, in the Orthodox Jewish religion, they are unable to use money to purchase anything during the Sabbath or during certain holidays. If someone becomes ill and needs medication, Isa has an arrangement with them that they can get the medication they need, and they pay him later. Isa does a lot of special orders for the community as well. For example, on Passover, only certain medications approved by a Rabbi can be taken throughout the holiday. He makes sure to have the medication they need, even if it does not benefit him financially. What matters to Isa is that his customers are happy and have what they need. “We cannot buy health.” “Since we are independent owners, we can go above and beyond to meet the needs of our customers.”
Mayor Marian McClellan praised the mural at the dedication, and said there will be more outdoor murals coming, as Oak Park raises its profile from sleepy to vibrant. This is just the beginning.
“When we added the mural, we knew it would become the first official mural in Oak Park, but we didn’t know it would be that beautiful,” Isa said. The final product was even better than they imagined, especially when Fridson added the quote, “…and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” The quote was his idea, along with the dedication plaque, which states:
Dedicated to the Proposition
By Howard Fridson
Completed August 22, 2019
Oak Park’s First outdoor mural commissioned by
Yanni & Francis Yaldo and Marwan Isa
on the historic Lincoln Liquor & Rx Building.
An important message for our time dedicated
To a supportive and diverse community.
Reflecting on the community, Isa said, “Since I started working here, there are many improvements. The roads, sunflowers in Oak Park, new businesses opening….people that moved away are coming back. Oak Park is the center of everything; the heart of southeast Michigan.”