Man about Dinkytown

Wally Sakallah owns the Hideaway head shop in Dinkytown as well as four stores he owns around campus.

by Jennifer Bissell

Surrounded by hundreds of glass pipes behind display cases, 22-year-old Jay Rod unloads the pipes heâÄôs made onto the head shopâÄôs counter.
Rod has been blowing glass for almost two years now, but this is the first time heâÄôs tried to sell his work to the shop.
Hideaway owner Wale âÄúWallyâÄù Sakallah picks up each piece one at a time to examine the work. He adds up the cost on his phone and he offers to buy them all. The sale is a success.
âÄúI buy from everyone,âÄù Sakallah said. âÄúThis is the biggest store in the U.S.; I go to shows, I travel all the time. IâÄôve never seen any store âÄî not talking size, but selection âÄî as big.âÄù
Rod agreed. âÄúThere are a couple of other stores, but this [one] really has everything,âÄù Rod said. âÄú[Pieces here are] gonna get looked at by a thousand people a day.âÄù
âÄúThe bigger the betterâÄù seems to be a general theme for Sakallah. He owns two other businesses near campus: a tobacco wholesale business and another head shop in Apple Valley. And heâÄôs not stopping there. Last month he purchased the retail space between AlâÄôs Breakfast and Kafe 421 on 14th Avenue Southeast as well.
Sakallah said he doesnâÄôt know what business heâÄôs going to put in the space but that whenever there is retail space open in Dinkytown, heâÄôs going to want it.
For the past couple weeks, heâÄôs kept the âÄúFor RentâÄù signs on the location âÄî not because he wants to rent it out, but rather to get ideas for what to put there when people call to inquire about the space.
âÄúEven the police sometimes say like, âÄòWally, what are you trying to own the Dinkytown? Change it from Dinkytown to Wally Dinkytown?âÄôâÄù Sakallah said, smiling.
âÄúThis is not my goal,âÄù he said, adding he wants more variety in Dinkytown.
Starting small
Growing up in the Gaza Strip in Palestine, Sakallah came to the U.S. in 1997.
âÄúThere was a war over there, and there was more opportunity over here,âÄù he said.
Sakallah went to school in Palestine for psychology, and when he came to the U.S. he went to the University of Wisconsin-Stout to learn English. He had never spoken the language before.
Later he worked at a grocery store for three years until deciding to go into business for himself in 2000 at WallyâÄôs Corner Market on Como Avenue.
âÄúI decide not to work for people anymore,âÄù he said. âÄúIf I can do it, I can do it.âÄù
At WallyâÄôs Market, Sakallah noticed there was a high demand for pipes.
âÄúCustomers educated me on what they want,âÄù he said. âÄúI had never smoked in my life. Never, not âÄôtil now.
âÄúI got very popular in Como with the products, and I thought the store is too small,âÄù he said. âÄúI chose Dinkytown because I was guaranteed traffic.âÄù
Sakallah opened Hideaway in 2005 in the building currently occupied by Dinkytown Tattoo but quickly expanded it into its current location in 2007, where he says he brings in hundreds of new customers to Dinkytown.
Not even 10 percent of his sales come from students, however, with the majority of his customers coming from outside of the neighborhood, he said.
Zizo Ayed from Royal Cigar and Tobacco said heâÄôs known Sakallah for seven years and buys his tobacco supply through him.
âÄúHeâÄôs a very clean and honest guy,âÄù Ayed said. âÄúHe works hard, and itâÄôs not easy to have a successful American business âĦ but heâÄôs got the smarts to make it.âÄù
With his success, Sakallah was eventually able to start his tobacco wholesale company, the restaurant WallyâÄôs Falafel and Hummus, a glass-blowing studio and Hideaway II in Apple Valley.
Playing by the rules
At Hideaway, customers arenâÄôt allowed to mention the word âÄúmarijuanaâÄù in the store, and in past interviews with the Minnesota Daily, Sakallah has said he doesnâÄôt know what his customers do with the products he sells.
But Sakallah said he has a good relationship with the city of Minneapolis and with the police.
âÄúThey know how I run my business,âÄù Sakallah said. âÄúThey donâÄôt have any problems with me. If they donâÄôt want me to do something, fine. I wonâÄôt do it.âÄù
In the past year, synthetic drugs have come under fire. When Salvia was banned, Sakallah stopped the sale willingly, saying that he agreed the substance should be banned.
âÄúOne guy tried to [crawl] underneath my cooler,âÄù Sakallah previously told the Daily about a customer who tried Salvia in the store.
But with the recent ban of synthetic marijuana, which is sold as incense, Sakallah hasnâÄôt gone as quietly.
In December, Sakallah and three other head shop owners filed a lawsuit against the Drug Enforcement Administration, claiming there is no proof the substance is dangerous.
âÄúFor this kind of business, people look at me, âÄòAre you crazy? Go suing the DEA?âÄôâÄù Sakallah said. âÄúItâÄôs not something people donâÄôt want to do, but to be honest with you, IâÄôm sick of following the rules,âÄù he said, adding that he understands the concerns but that there are many substances that are not sold for human consumption but abused anyway. âÄúSo why this one and not the other?âÄù
Sakallah said he doesnâÄôt expect to win the case but felt he had to stand up for what is fair. On Monday, Sakallah and three other head shops filed another suit with the Court of Appeals after the first judge threw out the case because it was out of the judgeâÄôs jurisdiction.
The man behind the counter
âÄúEverybodyâÄôs curious about âÄòWhatâÄôs WallyâÄôs mentality? WhatâÄôs in his head?âÄôâÄù Sakallah said.
The man seems to keep tight-lipped about his personal life, which includes a fiancee, but contended that he is just a normal guy who likes to run his businesses.
âÄúIâÄôm a successful man, but still youâÄôll see me behind the counter, helping people,âÄù he said. âÄúThis is the way I am. I like the idea of buying, selling, talking to the customers âÄî all those things.âÄù