To understand the Albanian community in Worcester, you need to understand some basic facts about Albania. After World War II, the country was ruled by a communist regime aligned with the Soviet Union and then China, until an anti-communist democratic party prevailed in the 1992 elections. Even after those elections, Albania had internal struggles that ramped up to armed conflict in 1997.
Around this time, the first group of immigrants came to Worcester from Albania.
“I left Albania at a time of war. We left war behind, and we came here,” said Greta Bajrami, CEO and co-founder of Golden Group Roofing in Westborough. “I feel as much American as anyone else. But when you’ve seen things and seen horror, it makes things different in you. It makes you run faster. It makes you work harder.”
For people who lived for years under communist oppression and then during a time of unrest, America is a place to apply yourself, Bajrami said.
When Bajrami started Golden Group Roofing with her husband Freddy Campoverde, they did not know anything about roofing but they saw an opportunity. They dove into the business in 2012 by doing subcontracting work for other roofing companies and now do more than 300 roofs a year.
“When I came here at 9 years old, I brought that immigrant hope,” said Bajrami. “This is the only place I could have made my dreams come true.”
Waiting for opportunity
But what spurred Albanian immigrants toward a dream of owning businesses can partially be linked to that communist background, Bajrami said. When it was a communist country, there never was a question of whether you were going to work hard, she said, because you just had no choice. Not only did you have to work hard, but you never had an opportunity to really strive for more.
When people got to Worcester, they had a work ethic and the ability to do something they were limited in doing in Albania – open their own business.
“For a better life, Albanians came here and were given the opportunity that you can own a business, run it and make a living for your family and children,” said Orieta Kristo, founder and CEO of Horizon Insurance, Inc. in Worcester.
For Kristo, starting her own business meant serving the Albanian community of Worcester. She estimates 60% to 70% of her business comes from the Albanian community and has designed her business to serve the community with employees who speak Albanian. Insurance can be confusing to begin with, but then you add in language barriers, it can become even more difficult, she said.
“Our main thing is to do the right thing and go above and beyond for our customers,” she said. “In Albania, loyalty is the one thing I always grew up with.”
A defining characteristic of Albanians is being ethical and being true to your word, Bajrami said.
“If you do good things and are honest about it and handle things with honesty and integrity… the success will follow,” said Bajrami.
Oriola Koci, co-owner of Worcester restaurants Livia’s Dish and Altea’s Eatery who moved here in 1996 from Albania, said a key trait leading to the success of Albanian businesses has been the hard-working attitude. This came from being raised to depend on themselves and never give up, she said.
“At the core of our souls, we are extremely hard workers. I’ve had people ask me why Albanians own restaurants. Because restaurants are very hard businesses … but somehow we are built to handle it,” said Koci.
While her restaurants are not Albanian-specific, the close-knit community is supportive, embracing growing together and the positive nature of competition, she said. That spirit of support has allowed the Albanian business community to grow in influence.
Taking on a more influential role
The original businesses coming out of the Albanian immigration to Central Mass. are now 15 or 20 years old, making them well established, said Koci. Those business owners have more money to invest or have accumulated property throughout the city and now want to be a part of larger discussions.
“We were just trying to establish ourselves as business owners, but as we grow we want to continue to grow in different directions,” said Koci, who foresees Albanian business owners getting more involved in politics.
What remains to be seen is whether this entrepreneurial spirit will continue on to younger generations. While Koci believes the work ethic will be passed along as it has been for generations, Bajrami wonders if the better life in America with less struggle will produce the same spirit.
“For the generations coming forth, they aren’t going to have that struggle or find the need to rise,” she said. “Will it be the same in tomorrow’s generation? Maybe not.”/WBJOURNAL