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March 8, 2011

American dream ends as store closes 1 year after clerk's killing

The Pride Truck Stop was a place where the American dream was lived out every day. But the Rock Hill store has closed one year after a late-night clerk was shot and killed.

The Pride Truck Stop was a place where the American dream was lived out every day.

Immigrant owner Alan Arshamam, a native of Yemen who has known nothing but work all his life in America, worked almost 100 hours a week to keep the place open and make a few dollars.

Arshamam hired clerks to work nights at the convenience store/gas station/truck stop on Anderson Road near Exit 77 of Interstate 77.

Regulars came in, locals, and I was one of them.

Arshamam and his devoted bookkeeper-clerk Rhoda Kennedy, a great-grandmother, and the other workers were so nice and tried so hard to make it.

Spending a few bucks there, a place where the customers were as varied as Rock Hill - rich and poor, black and white, young and old - was like making a mortgage payment on making this country even greater.

The people who ran the place so loved America you could feel it in the air. The employees always asked about somebody's kids, their health, the job.

"I put all I had into the store," Arshamam said.

One of those late night workers Arshamam hired was named Malek Salem. Born in America of Yemeni descent and with a wife and child in Yemen, Salem worked nights.

Then, a year ago last week, a gunman came into the store late at night and robbed Salem. Salem had grabbed a knife from the counter and fought back against the robber.

He was shot and killed.

The surveillance video from that incident - which police have circulated in an attempt to catch the suspect - is haunting.

Right there on the tape, you can see Salem being robbed, then grabbing the knife, then leaving the picture.

There is no video of that young man - a father and husband who was searching for that American dream all of us hope for - being shot.

Or dying later at the hospital as all his dreams died, too.

A year has passed, and police have made no arrests.

Lt. Brad Redfearn, a spokesman for the Rock Hill Police Department, said the investigation continues.

After the robbery, Arshamam and the other employees helped Salem's family.

They grieved and worked, because they had that American dream to chase after, and the death of a loved one does not mean bills stop coming.

They wished Salem had just given up the money and then the robber might have left, without killing Salem.

But today - a year to the week that Salem was killed -Arshamam has closed the store that for so many years had American flags flying in front of it and on a flagpole, to show love for this country. The cost of operating the older, rented building and the old-style fuel pumps that need expensive maintenance forced his decision. The high price of fuel in recent weeks did not help, and neither did a terrible economy.

"I just couldn't do it anymore there," said Arshamam, a father of five children. "But I want to thank all my customers. They were so loyal.

"America is about loyalty. I appreciated all of them coming in all the time."

And those customers, me among them, appreciated Alan Arshamam and his employees who worked so hard to try to get ahead for their families.

Employees just like Malek Salem, who died at the hands of a gunman over a few dollars.

Alan Arshamam gave that store and Rock Hill 10 years of hard work.

Malek Salem gave that store and Rock Hill his life.

The store, and the men who dreamed of America and tried so hard, are both missed.

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