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Immigrant businesses prosper at multicultural market

Local markets often provide a setting for refugee and immigrant-owned businesses to flourish. The Westside Bazaar is a multicultural marketplace in Buffalo that showcases food, merchandise and crafts made by people from a range of ethnic backgrounds.

Pou Ma is the owner of a gift shop at the Bazaar. She came to the United States from China several years ago when her husband was offered a job in Buffalo. Today, Ma is building her business around selling a range of items hand-crafted by family and friends.

“I sell clothing, handmade bags, gifts, home décor. I also do ear piercing. Of course you have to buy the earrings, though. These are my items and I sell items from different countries and most of them they are traditional culture items,” said Ma.

Ma calls her booth Anokha Leewu. The name is a hybrid of Hindi and Chinese words that mean ‘special gift’. Some other shop owners in the market come from Morocco, Burma, Nepal, and South Sudan.

Before Ma became a business owner, she was on different career path. Ma, 33, was born and raised in India, where she earned a Master’s Degree in Computer Applications. She worked as an IT project manager for GE in India and at IBM in China.

“As we know, most of the time either one has to sacrifice. So I had to sacrifice my very good job, very good salary, very good bosses and colleagues, a very good company. Then I had to move here,” said Ma.

After Ma moved to Buffalo with her husband, she got in touch with some local organizations who told her there was an opening to sell her gifts and crafts at the Westside Bazaar.

“I’m very happy that I joined. It’s quite an experience. It’s totally different from working a job. Having your own business, there are pros and cons to it. But so far, so good. I’m learning a lot,” said Ma.

The market’s mission is to provide a safe, inexpensive, and nurturing environment for small businesses. Ma says the Westside Bazaar has been a good match for her.

“We get to see people from all different walks of life and cultures, so this is one thing I believe that we wouldn’t be able to see if I were to have my own individual shop,” said Ma.

Ma says other vendors at the market are like surrogate family, as most of her relatives live several thousand miles away.

“I don’t think I would have got the same kind of experience that I am getting right now versus if I were to be on my own. I get to interact with other vendors inside the Bazaar, who also come from different background. Then [there is] different food, so anytime we are hungry, we vendors also buy different food from inside out Bazaar,” said Ma.

In the future Ma hopes to open her own brick and mortar shop. But until then, she says she will continue to soak up as much knowledge as possible from other veterans of the Westside Bazaar.

WBFO/Western New York reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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