Somali clothing store offers different cultures, styles

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Farhiya Mahamud, a 2003 graduate of Lewiston High School, manages the family owned business, Mama Shukri Plaza, on Lisbon Street. The store has a hip-hop appearance, but has customers of all ages.

LEWISTON — At the clothing store at 229 Lisbon St., the hip-hop music coming from inside and the shimmering garments in the window make some curious.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Items that feature the Rastafarian colors of red, gold and green are common throughout Mama Shukri Plaza. The flag of Ethiopia has the same colors.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Teenagers and young adults run to "Mama Shukri Plaza" once a month to see what new style of sneakers have arrived, said store manager Farhiya Mahamud.

New face of Lisbon Street in Lewiston
Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

As all but one social club have left downtown Lewiston, a new ethnic "flavor" has taken over the lower end.

“When they walk by (and) they hear the music or they like something in the window, some shy people peek in and ask, 'Is this a Somali store? What is this?'” manager Farhiya Mahamud said with a chuckle.

It is a Somali store, she tells them, but also more. Customers range from high school students to locals, Jamaicans, reggae fans, Franco-American seniors from Oak Park and Somalis.

Mama Shukri Plaza opened in October, but there's no sign up yet. She and her mother, the owner, are saving up for it.

The store has racks of traditional American clothes, basketball jerseys, jeans and striped and plain tops in all sizes.

“Over here we have African style. Here are all our scarves,” Mahamud said, showing off the bright colors as the hip-hop music blared. There were fancy Somali skirts with matching tops and scarves. The dressy outfits, which sell for $40, are suitable for weddings, Mahamud explained.

A few feet away are household goods, Muslim clocks, quilts, sheets and curtains with rich colors and patterns; no plaids or solids. “Some don't like the styles Walmart has. These are more like Middle Eastern.”

Other household goods include inexpensive items similar to those at dollar stores, and matching, fancy coffee and tea sets. In Somalia, tea time is a big deal, she said, “especially in the afternoon when it was too hot to go outside. A lot of people drink tea, go to sleep or hang out.” In Lewiston, tea time is enjoyed after work. “When people visit, this is what you would present at the table.”

There are sandals and shoes on clearance, purses and clutch wallets, dangling earrings and other jewelry, Jamaican-style Rastafarian hats and shirts.

Mahamud is particularly proud of the sneakers she finds online and displays. Several are high-tops with different patterns and designs. “The youth love our sneakers,” she said. “Every time we have a new sneaker coming, in they have to get it. They don't want to run into their friends and have the same shoes.”

Somali stores offer a range of goods, she said, because some customers don't have cars and can't easily get to stores near the mall.

Mahamud, 26, does not always wear a head covering. On this day she wore jeans, a shirt and dangling earrings. Outgoing, she seems to smile easily.

Some conservative Muslims come into her store and tell her she shouldn't be dressed like that, she said.

“'You shouldn't be playing this music' or 'You shouldn't be selling this. It's not good.'” Mahamud shrugs off such comments.

Born in Somalia, she came to the United States at 14, first to Atlanta, Ga. Her family moved to Lewiston when she was a high school senior. After graduating from Lewiston High School in 2003, she attended the University of Maine in Orono. After two years there, she moved to Florida and graduated from Florida Atlantic University in 2008 with a business degree. Last year she worked in Miami for an accounting firm.

Last winter her sister was running the clothing store and got accepted to medical school. Her mother asked Mahamud if she'd come home and manage the store. She loved Florida, “but I missed my family a lot,” she said. “I said, 'If I'm going to help you I want to get a little bit of my style.'”

The store is named after her mother, who everyone calls “Mama Shukri,” Mahamud said. “She works over there, at the Mogadishu Store.” When someone is new in town, “she welcomes them and introduces them to things. A lot of people say she's almost like family.”

Her parents opened the clothing store after the building was put on the market. Her mother wanted one store to focus on food, the other on goods.

“She saw this building for sale” and bought it because it was right across the street from the first store.

Lisbon Street is livelier than it used to be. “I like it,” Mahamud said.

She hopes to grow her business, attract more customers and buy advertising. And maybe a sign.

Project home: The Changing Face of Lisbon Street

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 's picture

Not long ago, it may have been you

I am a newer resident of the Lewiston-Auburn area and what I've been reading in these blogs is troubling.

The Somali community is is a no-win situation when it comes to the bloggers. If Somali's are not working, they are deemed as 'feeding off the system' and told to 'go back home.'

Now, there's a story in the paper about tax-paying U.S. citizens who were offered asylum from a war-ravaged nation by the our federal government, living the American dream. They are paying taxes and revitalizing an area that could never return to the Lewiston of the olden days.

Instead of praising the effort, the anti-Somali racist commentary continues. What's troubling about this, is Lewiston is a Franco-American city - and other than the Irish, what nationality was more oppressed?

How long did it take for French immigrants to learn the language? I know of many Lewiston-Auburn people who still speak only French. Should we rip them to shreds too? French culture, the negative and the positive, permeate the L/A area and Franco-Amricans are proud of their heritage, as they should be.

Why should we not treat the Somali culture the same way? The bottom line is that there are now more bsuinesses on Lisbon Strett fueling the economy. Should we really care what the nationality of the owner is and who buys their product? It's tax money and econoimic infusion.

The Somali culture is found money for L/A. Millions of dollars have flowed here. It's amazing to me that if these were white or Franco-American-run businesses, the bloggers would be praising this series.

Way back when your parents came here, they spoke French, they struggled to learn English and they were not immeditely accepted.

The anti-Somali bloggers should remember this, see the good that has come from this infusion of business and culture and find a way to embrace it. That's what happened with the French, Irish and English - and that's what has made our country great.

 's picture

Oh boo hoo. You posted an

Oh boo hoo. You posted an irrelevant, derisive anecdote about two individuals you say you encountered, then made insinuations about the bright young lady profiled in this story based on your anecdote. You're hardly a victim of eeeevil liberal censorship. Come back with something insightful to say rather than peddling rumors and personal attacks about the lady in the article.

Diane Tierney's picture

This young Lady

This young lady will do well, and I wish her well. She is far from the "norm" of the Somali women however. She has gone on to become well educated, she is not afraid to dress out of the Simali ways. This young lady has a smile that is a ray of sunshine, an it can be said she is truly Americanized. from what all of the stores offer, hers will do the best, because what she carries in it is very diversified. She not only has the things a Somali would want to buy, but she has many things for the American also. By playing the music that she plays, she knows how to draw in the attention of all who walk past. She not only has regards for the Somali's but she also has respect for the Americans too. She has it all, and as far as I can see, her store will do the best. Her merchandise 8is a collection of things for everyone, not just for one certain culture.

 's picture

She's not far from the norm at all

She may not be the image you think of when you think of Somali women, BearBug, but that's because your image comes from her parents' generation. Like any immigrant culture, as more and more generations grow up as a part of their new nation, they start to assimilate into that culture. We also see a tentativeness to assimilate from the older generation, just like you see in any other culture. People here complain about the lack of assimilation, but the Somalis are following the same path as any other immigrant population. I graduated high school a couple years after this girl did, and I graduated with several Somali girls who had assimilated just like this one. The next generation will have even more, and so on.

Diane Tierney's picture

my point....

My point was, that she was not afraid to assimilate from her older generations. Many still don't, and I give her kudos on being her own person.

 's picture

That scent

That scent is a cultural aroma/perfume they put on themselves. I forget what it's called. Surely that's one cultural difference you can respect?

 's picture


If that's the case, it sounds no different than a large percentage of white males in this city. Get over it. You aren't helping your case.

Diane Tierney's picture

she will do well

she will do well, because as she said, she told her mother, in order to come from florida and run the store, she had to be allowed to bring her own style to the store also. By doing that, SHE is what will make it a success ! Her merchandise is for EVRYONE, not just the Somali Community.

 's picture

If you think "There like a

If you think "There like a cancer here sucking all the resources they can," what do you think of this: In March 2006 Forbes reported 793 billionaires in the US with combined net worth of $2.6 trillion. In March 2007 Forbes reported 946 billionaires in the US with combined net worth of $3.5 trillion. That is a 1-year increase of 19% in the number of billionaires and an increase of 35% in their net worth during a time of increasing poverty. This trend is not decelerating. Severe poverty is at its highest point in three decades. You can Google all this stuff.
Who is it that is sucking up all the resources?
About nine hundred billion dollars ($.9 trillion) more was in the hands of those whose labors made them billionaires. Or maybe it wasn't their labors that made them billionaires. Maybe it was their financial advisors and managers that made them billionaires. How many working stiffs would you have to gather up to to have a group with the same assets those 946 billionaires had?
On a more down to earth note, the ratio of CEO pay to factory worker pay rose from 42:1 in 1960 to as high as 531:1 in 2000, at the height of the stock market bubble, when CEOs were cashing in big stock options. They didn't become billionaires, but they weren't doing badly. The ratio was at 411:1 in 2005 and 344:1 in 2007, according to research by United for a Fair Economy. By way of comparison, the same ratio is about 25:1 in Europe.
In the US it isn't the poor who are sucking up all the resources. And if you will do the arithmetic, I think you'll find that in Lewiston it isn't the Somalis who are sucking up the resources.

 's picture

I love all the different

I love all the different styles they show the pictures. Don't even sweat these people Ms. Mahamud. With a smile like that, how could anybody not feel welcomed?! Ignorance is bliss. Sit behind your computer screens and complain, rather than getting out and about and meeting some new people! Who needs your negativity anyway?

Diane Tierney's picture

you can say ignorance is bliss all you want to...

Ms. Muhamud is an exception. She went on to get educated, she has no problem with dressing out of the "norm" of the Somali women. Ms. Muhamud still had her beliefs that she was brought up in, listen to music that is not in the "norm" for the SOmali's, but she can be concidered "Americanized". There is no problem with her. Her radiant smile is very welcoming. This is not a matter if ignorance, it is just a matter of seeing what is happening to Lewiston! How long have you lived in Lewiston jayla? Are you even old enough to remember the way things always were and used to be? People are not merely complaining, they are voicing their opinions over a city they know and love !

 's picture

Yes nosey, I've lived in

Yes nosey, I've lived in Lewiston for most of my life. Maybe you should take a walk outside your apartment and into one of the local colleges to see the many Somali women and men getting a college education. Perhaps you should get one yourself.

Diane Tierney's picture

Live in Lewiston All my life until the past couple of years...

so since yu have live in Lewiston "part" of your life, there are obviously things you are unknowledged on. Call someone nosey all you want, it wasn't nosey, it was simply asking a question. I have walked out the door to my House...I am quite aware of life around me, I am quite educated, are you?

Diane Tierney's picture


[This comment was removed by the administrator]

Diane Tierney's picture

Well of course...

Well of course the comment was removed. Because it wasn't agreed with? Too bad the truth is the truth, and sometimes the truth stings.

Diane Tierney's picture

you are so right....

All of these Somali stories could have been all summed up in one story. So let's see, we get ONE story about the last standing Club on Lisbon Street, and how many about the Somali Community? SJ...come on....who do you think reads your papers anyway? The majority of the older Somali's can't even Speak english, much less read it ! Are you going to begin circulation a "Somali Community" news paper next?

Diane Tierney's picture

Was born and raised in Lewiston

I was born and raised in Lewiston. Lived there for 49 years, and even though I have been away for a few years, I still come back "home" to visit. My point was that the SJ just keeps going on and on with these Somali stories. Ya'll knew from the beginning that they would cause contraversy. You say there were 2 stories on the social clubs? I saw one...two links yes, but they both took you to the same story. Ya'll also make it sound as though Lisbon Street was only known for all of the bars and bar brawls, Lisbon Street offered alot more then that. There may have been an over abundance of bars and clubs, but at least they were all contained in one general area, and it wasn't that hard to keep an eye on things. It was a person's choice if they wanted to be in that general area or not. Even as a child, I walked through that area, and I never got hurt. They make it sound like the slums, and the worst of the worst. Move on up the street a ways, and it was entirely different. We had stores to shop in, we had restaurants,and diners, other small businesses, and at one time there was even a place for the teens to hang out at, to play music, play pool, ping pong, and just hang out together with their friends, to keep them off the streets. If we are going to get into the history if Lewiston, or more specifically Lisbon Street, let's do it all. Not everything was bad about it.

Diane Tierney's picture

That's all fine and well...but..........

I guess the point is, these people are given more then enough hand outs, while the American born and raised wait int he back of the line and hope there will still be something left at their turn. Your story talks about the bars, clubs and "bar brawls", but are you even old enough to remember we had stores too? There was Wards, Kresgee's, Woolworths just to name a few, we had diners, we had much more then just the bars! Now had any of these businesses been given the opportunities that the Somali's have now, there would not have been all of the empty store fronts. Are you aware of the fact that a special loan was opened, for the small businessman. So he could open his own small business, or to be able to make much needed repairs to his exsisting one? AN AMERICAN VET. went to apply for this loan on day 1. Now here is a man who put his life on the line for his country, and when it came to his turn, he was turned away, because all of the funds were gone! Who got all of the funds? Well look at Lisbon Street now, and that will give you a clue !I am not a biggot, and I am in no means prejudice, but you know, enough is enough ! Even with their stores, they still get food stamps, they still get everything they want handed to them. When an American Veteran is put in the back seat,a man who risked his life for his Country and can not get a small business loan to open his own little store, because all of the money went to the Somali's, it has become a very sad day.
So before it is written that all Lisbon Street was, were bars and bar brawls, check the facts more carefully. Lisbon Street may have had an over abundance of bars and clubs, but it still offered so much more then just that too. Go back and ask anyone who is over the age of 50 and they can tell you.

 '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.

 's picture


born and raise and shopped downtown lewiston for shoes, clothes, records and household goods...Should I adopt a new culture. I sooooooo miss our old Lewiston. None of us natives have a fighting chance...What is wrong with America anymore. Land of the free -- cool. Who are the free. And, Does home of the brave mean those of us born in this land are sacrificial beings to bring other into freedom and taking over what was once our means of survival. Not prejudiced, just confused by all this!

 's picture

Sad to see it turning into Islamic world

The article stresses the "ethnic flavor" but I can't help but bemoan the fact that the area is turning into a region of isolated Islamic businesses. This isn't just a cultural sharing because they sell products that only appeal to their religion (such as meat that is only prepared a certain way according to Islam) and even the owner of the clothing shop mentions Muslim customers chiding her for wearing more American attire or playing modern music. It is just sad to me that those who come to Maine wish to change it into their own country rather than respect the traditions we have here.

Diane Tierney's picture

you're right

you are so right melora, now if we were to move to their country, or any other country, we would be expected to learn their ways, cultures and beliefs. We would eat as they eat. We would be expected to dress as they dress. It's one thing for the older woman to want to still dress in a way they are accustomed to, but I see the little children(girls) still dressed as their mothers are. These children should be given a choice. Let these children also learn the American ways, I mean after all it is America they choose to stay living in. If all of their Islamic,Sumali,Muslim ways are so wonderful, why did they leave Somalia in the first place? Granted there they were living in poverty, yet here, they get all of the free handouts, when it's first come first served, you Know who will be the first in line! They may be living by their own ways, but by doing so, so emphaticly, they are also disrespecting America, why disrespect a country that just made it possible for them to live free, and practically go from "rags to riches"

Diane Tierney's picture

Very true......

Where is the Lewiston we grew up in? Where is the Lewiston we all loved ? But it seems as though Government and Somalia are going hand in hand. I mean after all, we now apparently have a Muslam President. Will religion be the next thing they try to change on us, and force us to accept as our own? I don't think so !! Not for me anyway !

Diane Tierney's picture

for your information the

for your information the "canucks" could speak English, and as with all the other cultures , they spoke in french to each other. If someone asked them a question in English, they answered in English. It was and is called good manners. I am a "canuck" and proud of it .


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