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Robert Grostein, one of Idaho’s most successful pioneer merchants, has carried on business in Lewiston since 1862 and through the intervening years has borne an unassailable reputation in trade circles, never making an engagement which he has not kept nor contracting an obligation that he has not met. His sagacity and enterprise and moreover his untiring labor have brought to him a handsome competence, and the most envious could not grudge him his success, so honorably has it been acquired.
Mr. Grostein is a native of Poland, born in 1835, and is the eldest in the family of four children whose parents were Moses and Bena (Herschell) Grostein. They also were natives of Poland, in which country they were reared and married, the father there remaining until 1838, when he came to the United States. He had been in sympathy with Napoleon, to whom he had rendered active assistance, and for this reason he was obliged to flee from his native land. After spending a year in America he sent for his family, having decided to make his home in the land of the free. He settled first at Mason, Georgia, spending six years there, after which he went to Buffalo, New York, and was engaged in trade there until 1870. In that year he came to Lewiston, Idaho, bringing with, him his good wife, and here they spent their remaining days with their son Robert, the father dying in 1891, at the age of ninety-two years, while the mother reached the age of eighty-eight years. Of their family two sons and the daughter are yet living.
During his early childhood Robert Grostein was brought to the United States by his mother, and was educated in the public schools of Buffalo, New York. He received his business training in his father’s store and then went to California by way of the Nicaragua route, in 1854, landing at San Francisco. From the coast he made his way to Downieville, where he engaged in mining for two years, working for wages at eight dollars for six hours” labor. He wisely saved his money, hoping to be able soon to engage in business on his own account, and in 1856 he went to The Dalles, Oregon, where he opened a store and soon built up a large and lucrative trade, successfully carrying on operations there until 1862, when he chose Lewiston as a new field of labor. The gold excitement here, and the large number of people who were making their way to this point, made Mr. Grostein realize that this would prove an excellent business opening, and accordingly he came to the new town, which was then a collection of tents. As in all new mining communities there was a rough element mixed in with the better class, and on the first night which Mr. Grostein spent in Nez Perces County a man was ruthlessly murdered. In a small tent he opened the store which has now grown to such magnificent proportions, and began business in the primitive style of the mining camps. He had to pay about one hundred and fifty dollars per ton to get his goods hauled to this place, and he took his pay for his merchandise in gold dust, at from thirteen to fifteen dollars per ounce. He purchased his goods in Portland, and the pioneer merchants of the northwest soon became his intimate and warm friends. He conducted business in the tent for a year and a half, and in 1864 erected a log building, twenty by forty feet and one story in height, the logs having been floated down the Clearwater River. In 1865 he admitted Abraham Binnard to a partnership in the store, and they carried on business with mutual pleasure and profit for thirty-three years, when, in 1898, Mr. Binnard was called to the home beyond. In 1890 they erected the fine brick block in which Mr. Grostein now carries a sixty thousand dollar stock of goods. This is a double store, fifty by one hundred feet and two stories in height with basement. It is splendidly equipped in the most approved style of modern merchandising, and he carries everything found in a first-class establishment of the kind. By close attention to business and liberal and honorable methods he has met with marked success and has a very liberal patronage, which insures continued prosperity as long as he continues in the trade. He also has a branch store in Warren.
Mr. Grostein is a man of resourceful ability and carries forward to successful completion whatever he undertakes. As his financial resources have increased he has made judicious investments in real estate, has erected a number of substantial buildings in Lewiston, and is now putting up several fine brick blocks, the rental from which adds materially to his income. He has also been the owner of about thirty-five hundred acres of land, mostly comprised in farms in Nez Perces County, on which he raises large quantities of wheat. He has also erected one of the finest residences of the city, and his improvements of property have been of incalculable benefit to Lewiston. He has witnessed almost the entire growth and development of the city, and has done much for its advancement. He has given his support to many measures for the public good, and in 1864, when murder and theft increased to an alarming extent in Lewiston, and life and property were in jeopardy, he joined the other law-abiding citizens, and a vigilance committee was formed. A number of the worst characters were then caught and hanged, order v/as effectually restored, and life and property soon became as secure in Lewiston as in any section of the entire country. In many ways Mr. Grostein has been connected with the events which form the early history of the state. At one time he had two hundred mules, used in packing goods to the different mines where he had supply stores, and during the Nez Perces war one hundred and fifty of these mules were rented to the government to carry supplies to the army. He was paid one dollar a day for each mule, and seventy of them were lost and killed, for which the government paid him one hundred dollars each. The remaining eighty mules were returned to him. In the Cayuse war the government again had his mules for ninety days, and he was again paid for the forty that were lost in that war. When the Bannack war came on he was able to once more immediately meet the needs of the government for pack mules, and thus greatly expedited the work of the soldiers.
In 1864 Mr. Grostein was happily married to Miss Rachel Newman, of Sacramento. Their union has been blessed with the following named children: Leah, wife of A. Kuhn, a resident of Colfax, Oregon; Bell, wife of H. Keminskey; Henry, who is conducting his father’s store in Warren; Louie and Ruth, who are attending school in Portland, Oregon; and Mitchel, the youngest, a student in the Lewiston schools. In connection with one of his school friends, he is now publishing a bright little weekly paper called the M. & M., devoted to local news. The family adhere to the Hebrew faith. Mr. Grostein is a man of excellent business and executive ability, and is widely and favorably known throughout the northwest. He has steadily worked his way upward through his own efforts, and the competence that crowns his labors is well merited.