Bhutanese group opens more than just a corner store
MANCHESTER -- Members of one of New Hampshire's newest immigrant groups gathered Sunday to celebrate a cultural milestone that combined opening a local ethnic food store with a healthy dose of American entrepreneurship.
Bhutanese immigrants Sunday marked the opening of Himalayas General Store, a market owned by refugees and providing refugees from Bhutan and Nepal with the familiar products of home.
But the refugee-entrepreneurs behind the venture went beyond gathering an inventory and opening a corner store.
Tika Acharya, who has been an advisor to the store owned by his wife and partners, studied business in India as he shuttled in and out of refugee camps in Nepal after being forced to leave his homeland in Bhutan.
Acharya said he is involved in the Bhutanese community as a worker for state and nonprofit resettlement agencies and came to understand the needs of his people.
"I have seen they have a challenge, certain things that they have to go down to Boston and down to New York to get, and some they had to ask their relatives to send from New Delhi and from Katmandu, Nepal, Acharya said. "I was trying to do research, I spoke with many of the customers before we opened up, people from African countries, from the Middle East and some of the items they were looking for they didn't have in the area."
The result was a long-term business plan for Himalayas General Store, owned and operated by Bhutanese, but with an eye to marketing to other under-served ethnic groups.
The store drew a continuous stream of visitors during its grand opening Sunday. The formal opening included prayers chanted by a Hindu priest asking for success for the new venture.
"It is not like a family-owned business; it is professionally managed," Acharya said. "We are going to diversify the services, opening up a Western Union (money transfer) franchise, that's a huge demand. We will help pay the bills for the people; they don't speak the language, we will help them."
The immigrant entrepreneurs got advice from the state Department of Resources and Economic Development and from the dean of the business school at Southern New Hampshire University and say the city pledged whatever assistance was needed to get the business off the ground.
Acharya's wife, Radhika Acharya, also emphasizes the store's plan of offering goods and services to a number of ethnic groups.
"It's an honor to be here," she said. "This is a long process, we have finally made it. It is not just our store, or a Nepalese store, it is the Store For You, for people from diverse communities around the world."
Radhika, who worked as a third-party health care billing administrator before starting the new business, said she knew first-hand of the difficulties of maintaining tradition and culture in a new land.
"I first came to this country in 2009 and in 2010, my sister got married and I had to go to New York to get the bridal dress and other things needed for brides and grooms."
Opening a general store was not the first thought the entrepreneurs had, said co-owner Pabi Khatri
"We were thinking to open a Nepali restaurant here in Manchester, but we could not find a good place," he said. The 359 Elm St. location provided enough room to sell food, utensils, cultural artifacts, clothing and religious articles for various cultures.
The community is embracing the new store, said Rohit Subedi, a volunteer with the Nepalese and Bhutanese communities.
"It is very important that a store actually reflects the culture, the tradition, and the values I think it is very important to have in our community," Subedi said. "It is the baseline; it is based on the ethical behavior that has been inherited from our forefathers. It reflects our religion, it reflects our tradition, it reflects our customs."
Sudha Khatiwada of Concord, a friend of the owners, is happy that the store will include a vast array of south Asian clothing that she's had to seek from faraway cities.
"I'm here because what I need is here," she said.