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Gabe Anton

From Shoemaker’s Son to Mount Clemens Institution

Gebran “Gabe” Anton, now age 90, is a Mount Clemens institution. Growing up here as a child, his father, a cobbler with a shop in downtown Mount Clemens, died in 1949 when Gabe was only 17. “In Arab communities,” says Gabe, “The oldest son takes over as head of the house when a father dies.” Despite his young age, Gabe assumed the responsibility for running the shop as well as finishing his education at Mount Clemens High School. “The school let me finish on a condensed basis,” he says. “I went to school from 8:00 AM to noon, and then went to work in the shop.”

Fortunately, adds Gabe, “My father had hired a cobbler before he died, after breaking his hip. I didn’t know how to fix shoes!” A popular item at the time was steel heel plates. “If you bought the shoes from me,” Gabe says, “I would install heel plates for free. Otherwise, it was a quarter.” Gabe’s shop sold then-popular flipper-type shoes including white bucks, blue suedes, and more.

Gabe grew up at 253 Crocker Blvd, in a house his father built. “I don’t know how a shoemaker was able to build that house!” he laughs. His parents, whose family was originally from Armenia, could speak English but not read or write it. Gabe had four sisters, and although the family didn’t have much in material goods, they had a happy life. “We never went to restaurants,” says Gabe, but “my mom could make soup out of a cement block! I certainly wouldn’t have been voted the best-dressed kid in school, but I certainly felt very loved—what else do you need?”

He was, however, voted “senior class cut-up” at Mount Clemens High, although that was not his original school. “I went to St. Mary High School,” says Gabe, which closed in 1970. “I had a nun teaching my religion class. I don’t remember what I did, but whatever it was, it met with the nun’s disapproval. I got sent to the Mother Superior and she nibbled on my tail.” The next year, continues Gabe, the same nun was assigned as his homeroom teacher. Not wanting to spend more time with the nun, he says, “Don’t ask me where I got the chutzpah, but I walked out and enrolled myself at Mount Clemens High School!”

Gabe’s wife, Suzanne “Pat” Anton, was also a student at Mount Clemens High. She was voted best-dressed and best-looking, says Gabe. He had just bought himself a new 1950 Mercury for $900 and had gone to the A&W on the north end of town, followed by driving around trying to “pick up chicks.” “Pat and her friend had just gone to the movies. I pulled up and tried to hit on her.” It worked, he says, and she got in the car with him. When he asked for another date, Pat told him she already had one coming up with another guy. Gabe says with a smile, “I told her you can have that date, but it’s the last one you’ll ever have. And it worked!” Stressing that Pat is the best decision he ever made, Gabe continues, “We sort of fell in love right away, and now our four daughters, our grandchildren, and our great-grandchildren—the whole family—are coming in June to celebrate our 70th wedding anniversary.”

The wedding took place in 1953, while Gabe was on leave from the army after being drafted during the Korean War. Their first home was above a millinery shop owner’s home in Mount Clemens. After leaving the army in 1955, he set out to build the family business. “In 1957 I opened a men’s store next to the shoe store. I didn’t even own a suit when I opened it!” Gabe credits his friend Louie for the idea. “Louie said, ‘Why don’t you open a men’s store? I’ll come work for you.’ There was no rhyme or reason for it, but it succeeded.”

In 1959 Gabe assumed a third store next to his shoe shop and men’s store, gutted the building, and built what he calls “the most beautiful store in Mount Clemens,” followed by a second Anton’s store in Utica in 1967. In the early 70s, Anton’s expanded to Warren, and in 1976, to Lakeside Mall.  With a loan from developer A. Alfred Taubman, Gabe says, “I went from a small-time operator to one of the biggest men’s chains in Michigan.” Eventually, Gabe owned nine Anton’s stores and four Gabe’s—a smaller store that focused on items that could be personalized with computerized monogramming.

When Gabe opened his store in Briarwood Mall in Ann Arbor, however, he was faced with a challenge. “It was a 12,000 square foot store. Most of the others were more like 7500.” Gabe recalled a Scottish woolens store he had visited in Canada that had a British MG automobile inside and was inspired. “My friend Joe had a 1937 Packard Phaeton. It was a gorgeous car, powder blue. I asked Joe to borrow his car to take up some space in the store—it was so big!” The car proved so popular that Gabe began to add classic cars to all of his stores, including a 1939 Lincoln Phaeton, a 1937 Ford convertible, and a 1941 Lincoln Continental.

Gabe sold the business in 1987 and focused more on real estate, which had been an interest of his for years. In 1969, he bought the Bath City Building, which at the time was a produce store and meat shop. Gabe also recalls buying the Vicant Building on Walnut St with a partner, which originally was six small shops that had partially burned. “I bought the block and rebuilt it,” he says. “We won a national award for the Vicant Building.” Gabe went on to develop a large number of projects around Mount Clemens, including the Cherry Street Mall, the Clemens Center, the Towne Square Building (donated to Oakland University as the Anton/Frankel Center with his partner Stuart Frankel), Gibraltar Trade Center, a new building for the Macomb Daily, and contributing and raising money to build the Anton Art Center.

These days, says Gabe, “I don’t own a doorknob in this city now. I’m 90 and ready to retire.” Retirement for Gabe has been “liquidating” the fruits of his career for a peaceful life with Pat in his Grosse Pointe Farms home, designed to accommodate their needs as they age by their daughter Ann-Marie Anton. Gabe built himself a memory room in the house, where he has hung favorite photos. Reflecting on his life, and his work in Mount Clemens and beyond, he concludes “Nice memories make me emotional.”

  • Gabe's shoe repair and first Anton's store
  • Gabe Anton
  • Gabe's legacy is that of family, vision, and generosity.

“I went from a small-time operator to one of the biggest men’s chains in Michigan.”