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.

“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.

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Project home: The Changing Face of Lisbon Street


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