Boise International Market Brings Global Flavor to the Bench
If you’re not sure where to start once you walk inside the Boise International Market, give yourself just a minute. You’re sure to encounter an enthusiastic tour guide.
For me, that person was Prem Subba, one of the growing number of micro-entrepreneurs who have found a welcoming space in this gray-and-orange building on the corner of Franklin and Curtis roads. Subba is an ethnic Nepalese who sells items from Bhutan and seems to have a side business dealing in charm and happiness.
I wasn’t familiar with most of the items on the shelves of Subba’s Gorkha Store, but he gave me a quick rundown on how to use popular items like flat beaten rice and Nepali finger chips. (Fry the chips in oil, then watch as your kids put them on their fingers, colossal-olive style, and dig in.)
Subba, like many of the proprietors here, came to the United States as a refugee. Yet he’s never owned his own shop in this country despite his previous experience in the clothing business.Housing his shop at the Boise International Market has opened up new opportunities, Subba says, like “talking with people, customers, and experiencing business in the United States.”
Subba and the other refugees who own shops in the market are the untapped resources of the Boise Valley, says Lori Porecca, who founded the market with her partner, Miguel Gaddi.
“A lot of the owners here have jobs that are not reflective of their skills and talents, like driving cabs,” Porecca says.
Tapping in to those resources was a big part of why Porecca and Gaddi started the market. Porecca is an urban planner and sociologist and Gaddi is an urban planner and architect, but the Boise International Market is their passion project.
After years of living in different states and countries where markets were an essential, vibrant part of the community, Porecca and Gaddi settled in Boise. The city has housed a significant refugee population since 1975, when Gov. Don Evans began the first refugee assistance program in the state, but Porecca didn’t always see that reflected in local businesses.
“I like the diversity Boise has,” she says. “I’d just like to see more of it.”
Porecca and Gaddi designed the market specifically for entrepreneurs who would otherwise be stymied by regulations and cost. “The idea was to lower the risk to entry to business,” she says.
The spaces in the Boise International Market — there will eventually be 28 of them — are small and about one-half to one-third of the cost market rate. The leases are shorter, as well. Each business gets a three-walled shell of a space and can decide whether to add their own fourth wall. The cost savings is immediate: Most restaurant owners at the market, for example, invest $15,000-$30,000 of their money rather than the typical $200,000.
For Nawid Mohammad Mousa, owner of Kahve, the market has given him a chance to incubate his growing coffee business. He sells hard-to-find styles of espresso — his list includes Turkish, Arabic, Lebanese, and Cuban offerings — as well as specialty pastries from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria that his mother and a friend make twice a week.
For Mousa, his coffee business is about more than making money: Coffee brings people from all over the world together in one common endeavor, he says. “We wanted a place where those who were new to Boise could engage with the locals,” he says.
That sense of community is what drove Terry and Karen Hathaway to set up their tea business in the market. The Hathaways were looking for a retirement business, and Terry’s love of tea seemed like a good fit.
“It’s a wonderful learning experience for both of us,” Karen Hathaway says about the shop, Joyful Tea, which sells 112 varieties along with toast and scones made by Terry. “And I love the possibilities of this place.”
Tea, like Mousa’s coffee, is a worldwide commonality. While I was talking to the Hathaways a woman from China came in and began rhapsodizing over the selection.
“You have pu-erh!” she exclaimed, while she and Terry, an American, bonded over leaves from Yunnan province.
That’s the magic of the Boise International Market, Porecca says: “It’s hard not to like something about it.”
Location: 5823 W. Franklin Road, Boise
Hours: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday; 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday
Number of stalls for businesses: 28
Types of items and businesses at the market: Handmade and imported clothing, specialty teas and coffees, hard-to-source international foods, ethnic restaurants, jewelry, and more — a barbershop is opening soon, for example.
Refugees in Boise: 11,000 settled in the city between 1990-2011, more per capita than any state in the union
How can I get involved?: Shop at the market and talk to the business owners, Porecca says. The multi-purpose space is open to the public and available to rent. META (MicroEnterprise Training and Assistance) manages the public space and helps business owners with important business needs, like taxes. Visit the market’s website to rent and learn more: http://www.boiseinternationalmarket.com/
A Snapshot of the Boise International Market’s Businesses
All of the businesses selected for the market feature items unavailable elsewhere in Boise, Porecca says.
Gorkha Store, owned by Prem Subba and his wife, Dhan Subedi. This Nepalese-Bhutanese grocery sells staples like dal, rice, and drinks and snacks. Prem is pictured with the popular Nepali finger chips.
Susan Obasi-Ikeagwu is the proprietor of Shepherd’s Heart, which sells high-quality, naturally raised meats like beef from Scottish Highland cattle, elk, and rabbit. Ikeagwu sources her beef from BVR in Horseshoe Bend. She also sells MFT sauces and locally made caramels. Ikeagwu plans to eventually have sausages from the wide variety of ethnic traditions represented in the Boise Valley. Her store is an extension of Restore Missions, a non-profit she runs with her husband, Obasi, to help marginalized people. People have come in here and been like, ‘This place is really beautiful,’ ” she says.
The mother-daughter team of Veronique (pictured) and Rita Thara Yenga own Thara Fashion, a source for clothing made from beautiful, bright African patterned fabrics and jewelry. (Check out Rita’s gorgeous illustrations, too.) Veronique and Rita hail from the Congo and do a lot of custom work, mixing African and Western styles to make one-of-a-kind garments. “We are so happy to get this place,” Rita says. “This gives us an opportunity to develop our idea; it is like chance. This has been our dream for a long time.”
Nawid Mohammad Mousa is the CEO and president of Kahve, which sells coffee, espresso, pastries, and accouterments like Turkish coffee sets. “We are trying to bring something unique to Boise,” he says.
Gebrehiwot Tesfaselassie and his wife, Elsa Solomon, hail from Eritrea. Their grocery, The Gurage (say: gir-AH-gay), carries foods from their home country and from Ethiopia, where they had a restaurant in a refugee camp. The Gurage features difficult-to-source spices and staples like the grain teff, as well as tools like the coffee pots pictured in the top right corner.
Ahmed Abdulridha is the owner of Sarah’s Market, which during my visit was staffed by Abdulridha and his daughter Hanen Salih. Sarah’s Market stocks an extensive collection of colorful Middle Eastern women’s fashion and household goods, which Abdulridha says is the first of its kind in Boise. Popular items include head coverings that are both religion-compliant and fashionable, as well as clothing for special occasions. His shop appeals not just to women who hail from the Middle East (Abdulridha himself is from Iraq), but also to women from Africa, he says. Sarah’s Market also carries potent Middle Eastern perfumes that are strong but blend well with skin. Abdulridha opens a package so I could sample one: Wear this, he says with a smile, and “all the men will line up behind you.”
Terry and Karen Hathaway own Joyful Tea, which stocks more than 100 varieties of tea. Terry has been in love with tea since 1980, when he was living on a boat in Puget Sound and a cup of Earl Grey changed his life. He’s been studying tea ever since. Karen Hathaway says the Boise International Market was the right choice for their growing business. “It seemed like an intelligent move,” she said. “For the community as well as us.”