Southwest: African Store Owners Maintain Culture and Profit

At any odd hour of the day, walking Woodland Avenue between 60th and 70th streets will afford you with the opportunity to purchase African food, clothes, movies and more. Just 14 years ago, African products were sold by the Vietnamese, and African-owned businesses did not exist on this avenue. Today, there are more than 10 African-owned stores in a 10 block radius offering anything from traveling consultations to hair braiding.

Vakaramoko Diaby, co-owner of Bain’s Halaal Market and Grocery on 63rd Street and Woodland Avenue, has been running his business, alongside his wife, for over five years. After moving to America due to political issues in Liberia, Diaby saved money driving cabs in New York, moved to Philly and opened his own business.

Though his store is now one of many, it was not until August 1997 that the first African-owned store, Mosel, existed on the avenue. Much like their products, the stories of these store owners have striking similarities. Issues in their home country caused them to move abroad. They either migrated to America illegally or filled out the grueling paper work required to obtain visas. Most importantly, many of these store owners work to send a profit back to their families in Africa.

“Killing an African here is like killing 10 back home,” said Vazoumana Camara, a family friend of the Diabys. These store owners are often the sole providers for their families abroad. Whether their families be in Liberia or Sierra Leon, their efforts are made in hopes of sustaining the people outside of their immediate surroundings.

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