- Title: [SW News](Saint Paul Pioneer Press/KRTBN) Minneapolis Minimall Gives
Somali Businesses a Place to Start
- Date :[26 April 2000 8:43 AM EST]
Minneapolis Minimall Gives Somali
Businesses a Place to Start
Story Filed: Wednesday, April 26, 2000 8:43 AM EST
Apr. 24 (Saint Paul Pioneer Press/KRTBN)--In business, it often pays to be first.
Faduma Farah hopes so.
Months 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
Farah's is the No. 1 booth facing the green awning-shaded front door at 2944 Pillsbury
"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. I want 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
They come from an entrepreneurial culture. Poised 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.
But in 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.
Many 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 Latino
community. Last 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
The second 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. "If the
individual succeeds, they will outgrow the space and move on to a bigger space
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. Their 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.
Farah, whose father was a merchant in Somalia,
said her store hasn't yet made a profit. "But we will -- maybe three months,"
Asho Sabrye, 22, owner of the International Clothing Center booth, also owns a cleaning
franchise and is thinking big.
"Just 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
If it's 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. "Word 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.
But the bazaar also shows a keen understanding of the needs of its tenants and
customers. In one 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.
Around the corner sits a coffee shop where men gather to relax and talk. Above the
conversational murmur, an indoor fountain gurgles and white doves in wire cages ruffle
Osman 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.
"The demand is there among the Somali, and we hope Americans like it, too,"
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
Saeed 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.
"It shows that people are settling in this country and forgetting the civil war
back home," he said, "and starting again."
By Leslie Brooks Suzukamo
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