Somali stores bring people back to Lisbon Street

Lisbon Street Lewiston
Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Paul Poloquin has been in business nearly four decades on Lisbon Street in Lewiston.

LEWISTON — Paul Poliquin of Paul's Clothing and Shoe Store remembers when the downtown was a shopping destination. The sidewalks were so busy “you literally bumped into someone you knew.”

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Tom Dahlberg of Auburn builds a new floor at "Three One Cafe" on Lisbon Street in downtown Lewiston. "I eat here just about everyday," said Dahlberg, who is referred to as "Uncle Tom" by many in the Somali community. The popular lunch spot is closed during the month-long Ramadan. Dahlberg said he is seeing more and more white people come into the restaurant, which is owned by Mohamed Mahamud. "There is nothing better," Dahlberg said about the Somali menu.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

The Somali menu hangs on the wall at the "Three One Cafe" on Lisbon Street. The menu is also written in English as well.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Tom Dahlberg of Auburn builds a new floor at "Three One Cafe" on Lisbon Street in downtown Lewiston. "I eat here just about everyday," said Dahlberg, who is referred to as "Uncle Tom" by many in the Somali community. The popular lunch spot is closed during the month-long Ramadan. Dahlberg said he is seeing more and more white people come into the restaurant, which is owned by Mohamed Mahamud. "There is nothing better," Dahlberg said about the Somali menu. Abdullah Saleem of Lewiston helps Dahlberg in the background.

Then came the empty storefronts as shoppers moved to the malls.

Now Poliquin, who's been in Lisbon Street retail for 38 years, is surrounded by occupied stores with African names. “We're talking 25 to 30 Somali stores," he said. "I've counted them.”

They're not Poliquin's first economic development pick, but he credits the businesses with bringing people back to lower Lisbon Street.

“Go back a few years before they came. It was a desolate downtown,” Poliquin said. “There were a lot of empty storefronts. What would you rather see, all vacant storefronts or some people walking around?”

Somali foot traffic, though, hasn't boosted his own sales. He's still hoping for more large companies to find the downtown.

Somali shoppers "don't come in here,” Poliquin said. “I carry industrial work clothing and industrial work boots. That's really not their cup of tea.” They don't cause problems, he said. “They stay to themselves. Pretty much the Somali community patronize their own retail establishments."

Eight years ago the city was on a roll, he said. “The bank came in. The university, Oxford Networks came in. Now people come off the turnpike and say, 'Wow, it's beautiful.'” That beauty as he sees it “stops at my corner. I would like to see more of the continued growth, more jobs coming to downtown.” But the recession hit. “And you have what you have.”

The owner of Twin's Variety, which sports an American flag outside, declined to comment about the Somalis' impact on Lisbon Street.

Doucette Insurance co-owner Lina Doucette-Chasse said the Somalis are good for her business. They buy insurance from her.

“The Somali people are really nice people,” she said. “We've had good relationships with all of them. The biggest problem is communication, but we get along really well.”

Kimberly Doucette was at her desk Wednesday at Doucette Insurance when a Somali woman dressed in a long skirt and head covering walked in, sat down, and began to talk over paperwork. The woman, Anisa Dol of the Al Fatha store across the street, is one of their insurance customers.

Doucette Insurance came to Lisbon Street in 2004. "A lot of buildings were empty,” Doucette-Chasse said. More Somali stores “have improved our business.”

These days she knows more about the Somali culture. She knows it is now Ramadan, a holy time for Muslims when many fast from sunrise to sunset. “A lot of them had hard lives before they came here. They're very appreciative,” Doucette-Chasse said. They're family-oriented and generous. “They take care of each other.”

The language barrier and the large Somali families remind her of Franco-American families like hers years ago. She was one of seven; her family spoke French at home. Her grandmother did not speak English.

A few buildings away, handyman Tom Dahlberg was installing a new commercial tile floor for a Somali restaurant, the Three One Cafe.

The restaurant features chicken, goat meat, rice and vegetables dishes. “I eat here every day. The food is that good,” Dahlberg said.

Two years ago Dahlberg put an ad in the paper offering his work. Cafe owner Mohamed Mahamud saw the ad and called. “He likes my work,” Dahlberg said. “He knows I'm fair. He passed word around.”

He said he's called “Uncle Tom” by the Somalis, a term of honor given to someone they trust. Somalis have hired him to renovate several businesses, including work at the mosque, and building a meat-cutting room in a grocery store. “They keep me busy.”

Dahlberg said he never used to come to Lisbon Street. With so many stores closed, he had no reason to. “Business is coming back,” he said. “It's all Somalian here. People are coming here.”

bwashuk@sunjournal.com

Project home: The Changing Face of Lisbon Street

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Comments

Lewiston

It isn't Lewiston anymore it is Somaliville!!!

 's picture

The problem was that when the

The problem was that when the small business loans went out for grabs, even the American veterans were in the back of the line, and when it came their turn, all of the funds were diminished. As soon as word was out on day one the Somali Community was there, and all first in line.
It wasn't a matter of you snooze, you lose. So many of us were too busy working in the hot shoe factories (sweat shops) for so many hours. many of us would have loved to own our own businesses, but in that time, it would have been too large of a risk to take. We would have had to go into hock up to our ears to even get a loan, but, the Somali community didn't have to worry about those things, because they got offered this easy as you please loan, and they had no worries. In the mean time they got welfare and food stamps. That was even the 2 parent households. Our 2 parent households couldn't get that kind of help if we needed it.

Dave Bussey's picture

Somalians

The lack of appreciation for subtlety demonstrated in the anti-Somalian, anti Sun-Journal posts here is: (a) astonishing or (b) not astonishing at all. You choose. Any of you ever seen pictures of the "no Irish need apply" signs on hiring halls in the 1920's-1930's?
Please, stop thinking it's all so simple and easy to understand. Try walking in the moccasins of a refugee for a while, you who have had the great great luck to be born in the USA in the twentieth century.

RONALD RIML's picture

Paris Adult Book Store has had a pretty long run.....

And who said Lewiston couldn't support a book store......

RONALD RIML's picture

Obviously reading comprehension is not your forté....

Have you ever though of studying English as a first language, Bob??

Perhaps you can find a Somalian to give you a hand with that.

RONALD RIML's picture

There were jobs then.

And the French were brought in to be exploited.

Both by the Mill-Owners and by the Church

DANNY FITZSIMMONS's picture

Yeah the last time I knew

Yeah the last time I knew that term was worse for a colored person than the N word. It is like the men and woman of the french who played footsie with the germans during ww2. That term is a degrading term meaning the person would sell his soul for a buck, maybe it is possible he does not even know what these people are actulay calling him and he thinks it a honor while the others laugh and talk about him after he leaves the area.

DANNY FITZSIMMONS's picture

when the grant money runs out

when the grant money runs out the store closes to bad they failed to tell the whole story but hey what do you expect its is after all the Lewiston Sun Journal.

 's picture

This WHOLE section

I Can't believe the Sun URINAL would print this RUBBISH !!! This is NO LONGER Lisbon Street Lewiston Maine... it's Lisbon Street Mogadishu Somalia.... This paper has NO BACKBONE but to give in to these people.

RONALD RIML's picture

And you didn't have the chance to move your own business in??

“Go back a few years before they came. It was a desolate downtown,” Poliquin said. “There were a lot of empty storefronts.

So you snoozed while you had the chance.... And now you're a sore loser. Go cry on someone else's shoulder.

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