Nestled in Lee Heights Shops, between a jewelry store and a bistro, sits an unassuming UPS Store with a big story.
Store owner Sahar Al-Furaiji opened the packing, shipping and printing shop, at 4532 Lee Highway, in March after months of trying to find the right location in Virginia, and years of trying to find a safe home for her family fleeing terrorists in her home country of Iraq.
“In our first year here my dad saw a UPS Store and said, ‘Wow I want to own one of those,’ and I thought he was joking,” said Al-Furaiji’s 15-year-old daughter Zuha, who works at the store after school.
Al-Furaiji, not her husband, ended up opening one of the franchises after painstakingly comparing locations across Virginia for the right population density and job opportunities to support a shipping business.
She credits her experience with logistics and business management running a non-profit in Iraq with making the transition to owning a small business here an easier one.
The non-profit connected services funded by the American embassy like career training for Iraqi widows. But the Al-Furaiji family’s cooperation with Americans made them unpopular, and they had to flee their home in Baghdad because of threats in 2006.
Her family then moved to Kurdistan in northern Iraq for awhile, but the safety didn’t last long.
Al-Furaiij said her husband received a call from an ISIS member one night. The voice on the phone said, “You have leave in 24 hours or you have to be ready for what will happen to you and your family.”
Three years and a visa process later, the family of five touched down in Virginia and stayed in Chantilly before finding what Al-Furaiji hopes is her forever home in McLean.
“When we came here, one of the neighbors invited us over and it touched my heart, you know, that she had her pictures of her babies from day one through high school,” said Al-Furaiji. “All the steps into high school, in the same place, in the same wall, in the same house, and in the same room.
“I put all my history in one package in storage in my house,” she said.
Now Al-Furaiij wants her children to go to college and take advantage of opportunities she and her husband, who now teaches part-time at the University of Virginia, never had.
But for now, business at Al-Furaiij’s store on Lee Highway — UPS Store No. 7086, per its email address — has doubled each month and it’s no longer “horrible” to handle the fast-paced English of hurried customers.
“After three months I feel really good,” she said. “I don’t have any problems.”
“She never lost her balance of being a great mom and a hard worker,” said Zuha, adding that her mother regularly works 16-hour days. “My mom is a hell of a mom.”