ST PAUL, Minn. — Inside the Karen and Nepali Foods store off Larpenteur Avenue in St. Paul, one can hear the typical crinkling and bustling sounds of a brand new store.
Co-owner Khem Rai is busy, rearranging shelves. It's something he said he is familiar with.
"I actually used to work in a grocery store so I know like how to organize stuff," Rai said. He said there are specific ways to make the shelves look fuller.
Something he is not so familiar with, is his new title of "co-owner." He said prior to opening up Karen and Nepali Foods, he has had zero experience opening or running a store.
However, the hype was real from the moment he put up the sign, seven months ago.
"People are asking me, when are you going to open?" he said. "I would say maybe two weeks? And people were like, 'there you go, that's great.'"
Rai explained that the questions became more frequent when the opening was delayed, due to paperwork and other things that needed to be sorted prior to opening. He also said the building, which was a former strip club called the Lamplighter Lounge, needed a lot of work.
Among those waiting for the store's opening, was LaTanya Black, mother of Nia Black, who was shot and killed June 13, 2020.
Nia was killed right outside of where the store now stands. Back then, it was still the Lamplighter Lounge. The club/article/news/local/breaking-the-news/family-mourns-death-of-nia-black/89-f24b9e6d-99cb-4f66-b56d-d4c6ac4e1066 had a long history with violence.
"What felt like forever for me, I can only imagine for that community," Black said. "Nia's been gone — it will be three years, June 13th. I can just imagine for that community, the stories that we heard from neighbors living with the bullet holes in their walls."
Black said alongside her, were the partners of her organization, Mothers Against Community Gun Violence (MACGV), and other community members opposed to the Lamplighter Lounge. She said they showed up for eight weeks around the corner of the club, protesting its existence and bringing awareness to the lack of resources when it came to crime in that area.
"There had been a history of violence here," Kim O'Brien reiterated. O'Brien is the executive director of the Rice & Larpenteur Alliance. "Very frequent police calls, very frequent fights and nuisances outside of the building. This neighborhood is home to a lot of families and children so it wasn't a right location for a business like that."
O'Brien also added that the area sometimes lacks resources because it sits on the fringe of three different cities. St. Paul, Maplewood and Roseville.
"The issues went under the radar for far too long," O'Brien added.
And finally, years after Nia's death, the community welcomed a whole different kind of business on Saturday, with a ribbon cutting ceremony for Karen and Nepali Foods store.
This new business is one that gives life, and provides for the neighborhood.
"I believe Nia orchestrated and ordained that day," Black said with a smile. "I'm always thinking of like how awesome — the young gentleman, the owner of that store is 23. Same age as my baby when they took her life in that same parking lot. I just believe she had a hand in that."
Once a place of hurt — is now to be a place of comfort.
"This is a good place because I know there are a lot of elderly people around here, like Karen elder people, Nepali elder people — they walk in the summer to go shopping send money those kinds of things," Rai said.
"Whenever the Nepali people come, I can talk to them in my language so I can help them," he continued. "Whenever Karen people come they can talk to them and help them. So they have options over here, whatever they need they can talk to us, so they can feel more confident."
Mothers Against Community Gun Violence is hosting a June Walkathon. The event is happening on June 10 at Lake Nokomis at 9:30 a.m.
You can find out more information about the Walkathon here.
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