New mall for Somali residents proposed in Philips neighborhood

Tenants of an existing Somali mall say the building has had poor management for years.

A shopper walks through a strip of stores on Tuesday Jan. 24. at Village Market in Minneapolis.

Chris Dang

A shopper walks through a strip of stores on Tuesday Jan. 24. at Village Market in Minneapolis.

Raju Chaduvula

Village Market, a vibrant collection of shops geared toward the needs of Somali-American residents, may soon have competition.

A new plan from Ward 6 Minneapolis City Council Member Abdi Warsame, proposes to build another mall for Minneapolis’ Somali community after several years of complaints waged against Village Market, which is located on 24th Street in the Philips neighborhood.

In the plan, residents and entrepreneurs would cooperatively own the new mall, so the power of shopkeepers and tenants doesn’t rest entirely in the hands of a few landlords, Warsame said.

While the mall’s location hasn’t been determined, it would be located outside of the residential area so that traffic wouldn’t be a problem, he said.

The existing mall, Village Market, is owned by Omar Sabri.

“If Mr. Warsame wants to open a mall, I think it is a great idea,” said Basim Sabri, Omar Sabri’s brother.

Omar Sabri could not be reached for comment.

Warsame said he has received several complaints about the mall’s unstable infrastructure and issues around maintenance — problems that have been only somewhat resolved after pressure from the city, he said.

“You shouldn’t be forced to change … you should do those things anyway,” Warsame said.

Since 2010, the mall has been cited nearly 200 times for violations, he said.

For many residents, the mall’s location isn’t convenient. Located in the middle of a residential area, the area has increased issues with traffic and littering, Warsame said.

Although Basim Sabri and his company, Sabri Properties, have no financial holdings with the Village Market, he said the market does better than how it is normally portrayed.

Proposing a mall is easy, Sabri said, but managing one is difficult.

“Am I perfect? Is my brother perfect? Of course not, but we try to do better,” Sabri said.

The city Monday denied permits to complete construction of a porch, citing doubt in Sabri’s good faith. Sabri had already started construction without a permit.

While issues persist, the mall remains a staple for the local Somali community. The two-floor building is filled with shops that sell goods specific to Somali-Americans needs.

“[The mall] functions more as a cultural center,” said Abdirahman Kahin, owner of Afro Deli, an East African restaurant with a location formerly on the West Bank. “We need a mall where everyone feels welcome.”

Mohamed Jama, chair of the West Bank Community Coalition, said the mall proposal is “a fantastic idea.”

Citing the cooperative aspect of the new mall, Jama said it would allow the mall to help up-and-coming entrepreneurs in the Somali community.

Within the next six months, Warsame said he hopes to have plans drawn up and a location set for the mall.

“We want to make sure that there’s an alternative mall … one that is cleaner and meets the safety and maintenance standards,” Warsame said.

Kahin, too, said a new mall would be better for residents, since they would get to choose where they go.

“I’d be happy to see a new mall … I’d be one of the first tenants,” Kahin said.