Sometime around 1999, a property developer named Basim Sabri was sitting on a bucket in a building he’d just bought off Lake Street in Minneapolis. For twenty years, the place had sat abandoned and rotting. Now he was trying to fix it up, even though he had no idea what he was going to do with it. Then in walked two guys.
“One of them had a very pleasant face,” Sabri recalls. “He said, ‘Will you guys have a coffee shop here?’ And I said, ‘Sure!’
I asked where they were from and he says, ‘Somalia, and there are so many of us coming.’”
The man only had a couple thousand dollars saved up, but Sabri helped him out and soon, as he tells it, half the Somalis in town were coming over asking for a spot. Sabri, who grew up in the Palestinian Territories, had traveled the world and he loved open-air bazaars. So he decided to recreate a bazaar inside the building. As soon as he did, the building was full.
The venture was so successful that Sabri built another entire building next door as an expanded Somali mall called Karmel Square. Today it is the biggest of several Somali malls in town with 175 businesses, including shops, restaurants, grocery stores, a mosque, a learning center, day care, and more. It is, for many of those who visit, a piece of Somalia, salvaged from memories and reborn in an old building. It has zero vacancy.