By C. Julia Nelson
A dollar and a dream, realized.
They arrived with $90, a couple suitcases each and unbridled optimism in 1990.
Seemingly meager to most Americans, it was as if all the riches in the world had been bestowed upon Russian sisters Rozaliya Golinshteyn and Liliya Ivanenko. Clinging to a tight family bond and a prayer, they arrived in America and secured freedom, a priceless commodity as far as they are concerned, even today, 17 years later.
“We came here for our freedom and for the future of our kids,” Rozaliya said. “Family for us is a big treasure – the best treasure. That’s why we are here, because we have each other.”
Yearning for freedom from the Soviet Union where religion was not a free choice, opportunity was virtually non-existent and being male meant a life of military service, Rozaliya and Liliya, both mothers of two boys, knew immigration to the States would be worthwhile.
“The future of our kids was a big concern. In Russia in the 80s there was no freedom and no future,” Liliya said. “There was no freedom for religion and we wanted very much for our kids the freedom of education.”
It was a milestone when they finally took their first steps on free American soil after a tedious, yearlong journey through Austria and Italy. Emerging from a stagnant economy under communist rule, Rozaliya and Liliya were in search of the American dream – an opportunity to succeed for the sake of family.
They found that opportunity through their own determination and the help of some good friendships.
In 1996, Rozaliya and Liliya opened their first boutique, Charm, in Loehmann’s Plaza in Sandy Springs. Their dream of working in the fashion industry had finally become a reality.
“We do this because we love to dress up a woman and see a woman happy,” Rozaliya said. “It’s a big joy for us. Fashion is a big part of social life and it’s a big part of art and culture. It can make people more beautiful and allows you to express yourself.”
By 1998, a second Charm boutique was in the making at Parkside Plaza, also in Sandy Springs on Roswell Road.
“We decided to combine the stores because our clients wanted to see us together,” Rozaliya said. “They would come to the store where we were. So we closed one.”
Four years after the initial opening of Charm, the sisters became fashion consultants in 2000 through La Maison De La Mode in France. Then in 2004 they closed Charm to work on reestablishing themselves in a bigger space with a new name.
Their new boutique, A La Mode, opened in April 2006 at 3176 Peachtree Rd NE in the Peach Plaza, and quickly became a best-kept secret of the Buckhead shopping community.
Their clientele, who follow the sisters wherever they go, have developed a taste for purchasing reasonably priced high fashion where the philosophy is for every woman to maintain a high level of self-esteem.
“We treat our clients like queens,” Rozaliya said. “Life is fun, dress the part.”
At bargain discounts, A La Mode stocks designer brands such as Prada, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, Escada, Zara and Roberto Cavalli among others. But for A La Mode clients, the bigger attraction is the personal attention they receive; customers are only a stranger once in this boutique where Rozaliya and Liliya are always ready for friendly hugs and meaningful conversation.
When the opportunity arises, Rozaliya and Liliya give back to the community that enabled them to achieve their dream.
“We do our best for people as much as we can, especially since we are new to this neighborhood,” Rozaliya said.
Over and above all, the assistance, hospitality and lifelong friendships that blossomed from their move to America are priceless to Liliya and Rozaliya.
“When we came here we were very lucky,” Liliya said. “We met two families who volunteered to help us.”
Through the Jewish Family and Career Services the sisters and their family arrived safely to a warm welcome. Atlantans Elaine Herckis and Carla Silver adopted Liliya and Rozaliya, respectively, and their families, to acclimate them with America.
“In 1990, many Russians came to Atlanta and they needed volunteers to help them,” Elaine said. “My friend adopted Roze’s family and Lily and I just clicked. It felt right when I met her and her husband, the boys and their parents.”
Prior to immigration, Liliya earned a degree in economic accounting from the University of Rostovondon in Russia as well as a degree in international trade and fashion from the Union of International Trade College in Soviet Union (now located in the Ukrane). Rozaliya earned a degree in philology also from the University of Rostovondon.
However, neither had been trained specifically in American culture or the English language; those things they learned over time with experience.
“We didn’t have a chance to educate ourselves (in America); we needed to support our boys,” Liliya said.
Instead of a formal education, the sisters relied on Carla and Elaine to guide their way into making a living.
“My grandfather came from Russia,” Elaine said. “If he hadn’t left when he did I would have been (Lili). She needed to know how to get a bank account, how to get a credit card, a car and a job. We helped them get those things.”
With a bit of guidance and the generosity of an entire community, both ladies found jobs for themselves and their husbands, established residency, built a line of credit and became contributing citizens of America in North Atlanta.
By 1995, the entire family, including their parents, Lyubov and the late Michael Friman, officially became American citizens.
“It was not easy for our parents especially,” Liliya said, “but we’re proud to say we are American.”
Rozaliya, married to Gennady and the mother of Boris, 35, and Michael, 28, landed her first job selling jewelry at Riches, a division of Macy’s. Liliya, married to George with two sons, Lenny, 34, and Victor, 31, took a job in the accounting department, also at Macy’s.
Meanwhile, George worked as a chef for the Ritz Carlton and Lark and Dove, and Gennady found work in a dental lab.
Shortly thereafter George and Liliya opened the Ivanenko Deli for a year before taking the next step and opening Moscow, a full scale restaurant featuring Russian cuisine, in Lindberg Plaza. George prepped the food while Liliya kept the books in order.
“Their gumption, intelligence and willingness to work is amazing,” Elaine said. “In Russia you have to take care of yourself and figure your own way out of the socialist system. They have that ability. They came with little and what’s the worst that can happen? They’ve really taken on the American dream.”
“Both Elaine and Carla are so important to us,” Liliya said. “They have big hearts and did everything without anything in return. I don’t know a lot of people like that.”
The sentiment is equally returned.
“Every time I talk to (Lily) I get a warm feeling in my heart because she’s such a miracle,” Elaine said. “I’m grateful I can help somebody who could’ve helped me if I had needed it. There’s a special place in my heart for her.”
Even more so, Rozaliya and Liliya appreciate the opportunities they received in America.
“It was very difficult in Russia,” Liliya said. “Here we can improve ourselves – in America you can open yourselves much better and our kids got more possibilities to be somebody. We thank God we made it here.”
“We’ve had good times and we’ve had bad times,” Rozaliya said. “Equal opportunity is the biggest reason to appreciate this country.”
“Its more important than material things – you have to be proud of who you are,” Liliya said.