it often pays to be first. Faduma Farah hopes so.
ago, the 46-year-old Somali woman was the first to sign up
for a booth at Suuqa Karmel, a new indoor bazaar in Minneapolis
targeting the city's burgeoning Somali community.
is the No. 1 booth facing the green awning-shaded front door
at 2944 Pillsbury Ave. S. "I want my own business to develop
for my family," Farah said, seated in her 4-foot-by-4-foot
stall behind a glass counter crowded with soaps, creams and
perfumes. "I don't want to depend on other person or welfare.
to stand up myself." Farah isn't so alone. Most of Minnesota's
estimated 20,000 to 40,000 Somali refugees still scramble
to find jobs to support themselves, but more and more are
setting up their own businesses. They come from an entrepreneurial
on the tip of the Horn of Africa, Somalia has centuries of
history of trade with India to the east across the Indian
Ocean and Egypt to the north through the Red Sea.
America, they're often stymied from jumping into the business
mainstream. They don't have the credit histories banks demand
for business loans, and they are prohibited by their Islamic
religious beliefs from accepting or paying interest.
raise the money for their own businesses by tapping family
and friends, but others cannot afford to rent or buy buildings.
Enter Basim Sabri. The Palestinian immigrant and Minneapolis
business developer last fall opened a similar concept on East
Lake Street at the International Bazaar, a building filled
with start-up businesses catering to the neighborhood's fast-growing
month, he opened Suuqa Karmel, a minimall. Sabri bought the
30,000 square-foot abandoned Midwest Machinery warehouse in
the 2900 block of Pillsbury Avenue South in 1997, remodeled
it inside and out, and then sought enterprising tenants.
floor is filled with professional offices for landscape architects,
chiropractors, therapeutic masseuses and lawyers. But the
first floor is devoted to small, start-up Somali family stores
and services in the "suuqa," or bazaar. Karmel is his daughter's
name. "It will allow these individuals who have very little
resources in either knowledge or money to open a business
in the United States," Sabri said.
individual succeeds, they will outgrow the space and move
on to a bigger space elsewhere." Many of the bazaar's 33 tenants,
like Farah, sell clothing, especially fabric for making scarves
and the long, flowing head covering traditionally worn by
many Muslim women.
booths are a rainbow of silk fabric, hemmed in by hangers
with Western-style children's and men's clothing and shoes
and purses. Most of the tenants are women. Many are married
and their husbands work regular jobs to support their families
until their businesses catch on.
whose father was a merchant in Somalia, said her store hasn't
yet made a profit. "But we will -- maybe three months," she
said. Asho Sabrye, 22, owner of the International Clothing
Center booth, also owns a cleaning franchise and is thinking
our community knows, but we'd like Americans to come," she
said. Mohamed Ali, 45, and his wife, Farhiya Ahmed Mohamud,
41, named their home furnishings business -- Leban International
Decorations and Jewelry -- after his second son.
successful, said Ali, who works as an employment counselor
at the Brian Coyle Community Center, his wife will expand
and move the business to St. Paul's East Side, where an East
African community is growing. Some of his customers come from
as far as Willmar, Minn., he said.
goes out. You don't need advertisement. You just need one
person in one town," he said. In many ways, the bazaar resembles
an old-fashioned Main Street in miniature, with clothing stores
interspersed with a fruit and vegetable stall, a faxing and
copying service, a tiny convenience store with new furniture
stacked next to boxes of diapers and Tide detergent, a tailor's
shop, a video store and a hair salon.
bazaar also shows a keen understanding of the needs of its
tenants and customers.
corner, Sabri sacrificed a potential storefront to install
a small prayer room or "masjid" -- a mosque for the Muslim
Somalis to take their daily short prayer breaks.
the corner sits a coffee shop where men gather to relax and
the conversational murmur, an indoor fountain gurgles and
white doves in wire cages ruffle their wings.
Sahardeed, executive vice president of Somali Community of
Minnesota, said many Somalis already know about the bazaar
through word-of-mouth and stories in Somali-language newspapers
and on a local Somali cable television show.
demand is there among the Somali, and we hope Americans like
it, too," he said. His organization estimates Minnesota has
nearly 20 Somali-owned restaurants and another 20 grocery
and clothing stores, most concentrated in Minneapolis but
a few in St. Paul and Rochester.
Osman Fahia, executive director of the Confederation of Somali
Community in Minnesota, an umbrella group for other mutual
assistance organizations, said the bazaar is becoming a popular
meeting place for people to meet, shop and relax.
that people are settling in this country and forgetting the
civil war back home," he said, "and starting again."