By TOM LAVENTURE
AAP staff writer
ST. PAUL (October 30, 2010) – The Hmong Village (Zos Hmoob) held its long anticipated Grand Opening Saturday, at its 1001 Johnson Parkway location on the St. Paul East Side. Co-owner Yia Vang greeted hundreds of guests outside in the chilly morning air prior to the ribbon cutting ceremony conducted by non other than General Vang Pao. The list of dignitaries went on and on, to include U.S. Congresswoman Betty McCollum, State Sen. Mee Moua, and several others.
The guests then followed a tour along several sections and corridors of the 108,00 square foot facility on nearly seven acres of land. Vang said there were around 40 professional offices including medical, legal and insurances, hair salons, an indoor farmers markets, 18 restaurant kitchens, and 230 merchandise booths from clothing and shoes to music and videos.
It is called the Hmong Village, but Vang said there were also stores for Lao, Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Chinese, Somali and Mexican venders. Those numbers produced some awe with the guest but the real applause came when he said that altogether the facility creates about 500 jobs in the community.
Vang introduced several partners that he said worked long hours for many years to make this dream a reality. He also pointed out the contractors along with Brian Sweeney and Robert Yang as instrumental in the process.
Vang said the vision and goals of the Hmong Village are to have a community place where families with children can shop, eat, listen to music and talk to other people. He said it is a destination mall for people visiting from other states.
“As we all know Saint Paul is a beautiful city and a beautiful city and we all love and treasure it very much,” said Vang. “Our goal to help build Saint Paul to become a better city and a better place for our children and our children of our children. To do that we have to work together with the community, the city and the state to create more jobs and better education and more houses to those who need them.”
Vang also impressed as an entrepreneur who managed to get the project completed with all private investment and without financial help from the government. He did thank the city and the state, however, for helping to overcome the obstacles to getting the project off the ground and through the renovation of the former school into a mall.
Saint Paul School Board Member Kazoua Kong Thao served as Mistress of Ceremonies. She said that as a child she could not have imagined a place like this but and credited a group of strong people to step up with the community behind them.
The Hmong mall concept is not new but this development is on an unprecedented scale as a facility.
The first concept was the Hmong American Shopping Center that closed in 2005 after an eminent domain battle with the City of Brooklyn Center. The Hmong Flea Market opened shortly after and still operates in the former railroad roundhouse at 217 Como Avenue in St. Paul.
The Golden Globe Marketplace is the most recent and opened in the former grocery warehouse at 630 Pierce Butler Route at Minnehaha and Dale Street. The fate of this facility is reportedly to be bought out by the city for development to straighten the turn on Pierce Butler Route.
Congresswoman Betty McCollum (DFL-4) said Hmong village offers a unique gathering space for business venders, entrepreneurs and community venders to shop, socialize and conduct business affairs.
“Minnesota is proud to be the home 75,000 Hmong Americans who enrich our community, culturally, socially and economically,” she added. “Thank you for all that you do to make our community a wonderful place.”
McCollum added that she will continue working to improve the Normalized Trade Relations agreements with the Lao PDR to both improve the business climate for Hmong and Lao Americans here in Minnesota and for their cousins in Laos.
District 67 Minnesota State Senator Mee Moua, attended one of her final events before Tuesdays election when John Harrington, also present, won to become the new senator of St. Paul’s East Side.
Moua said the Hmong Village is more than a Hmong business, but is a vibrant economic engine and tax base on the East Side of St. Paul, and a symbol of the entrepreneurial ingenuity and economic power of the Hmong American community.
“I want to congratulate the visionary leadership and courageous will power of the owners of this great establishment, who in the face a tough economic times, seized empty publicly owned building and turned it into a vibrant cultural, community and economic center,” said Moua. “I want to also congratulate all the vendors who took a chance on this endeavor.
“In today’s economic downturn, just because you build it, it does not mean that people will come,” she added. “But, today, your enthusiasm and your willingness to become tenants in this building has signified that it will not only succeed for the short-term but be sustained into the future.”
Moua, who has gained national attention as a model representative of multiethnic communities, spoke about her attendance at a workshop nearly a decade ago in Portland, Maine, where policymakers sought to learn how to have that same success in welcoming and integrating its new and large population of African refugees.
For a district to develop a cohesive community of ethnic, racial and immigrant groups, Moua said it takes support to establish a climate of growth and prosperity and to create a sense of community and belonging.
Moua said the Hmong village is an example of how local community and residents make it possible to establish its own sense of presence with places that are more than just culturally bases commerce. She said presence is also established with places of cultural and religious practices for weddings to funerals, and where people gather to invite integration, and that
More than elected leaders putting in place elements that permit the growth and perpetuation of a sense of community, Moua said “it is a sense of a collective identity that is inclusive of all the elements and is the true compositions of that community.”
Mr. Ger Vang, who opened an herbal supplements store in the Hmong Village, said the products are currently very popular and that the new mall is a great location to capture a large segment of shoppers.
“The new mall here is going to be the just like the Mall of America only for the Hmong,” said Vang.
Chong and May are one of many fruits and vegetable stands in an auditorium sized farmer’s market hall. They decided to open the stand indoors after selling at summer farmer’s markets for several years.
Christina of May’s Market, said the Hmong Village offered opportunity to move their assorted grocery and other merchant items including Chinese, Thai and Hmong natural herbal items.
The family owned grocery started with a big storefront on University Avenue years ago, and currently operates in a smaller store on University and Western, and another on Maryland and Arcade. She said time would tell whether the mall location will compare well to sales in the storefront locations – but that she is pleased with the concept.
“I guess it’s a new trend,” she said. “Its something new and just tries to make it a little more convenient for everybody.”
Hmong Village hours are 9-9 everyday. For more information contact Yia Vang at 651-492-0522.