Where Columbus’ Somali community shops, socializes
Upon first glance, Global Market looks like any other grocery store in Columbus.
Boxes of Cheerios, Froot Loops and pancake mix line the shelves of one aisle. Another features Colgate toothpaste and Dove soap.
But there also are international brands sprinkled throughout — Al Khaleej dates, Baraka melon seeds and Jango mango juice.
The market is part of the Global Mall in the Northland neighborhood, and it has become a destination for the city’s Somali and immigrant communities since opening in 2002.
The 30 businesses that make up the mall offer a range of goods and services — traditional Somali clothing, jewelry, travel planning and food and drink — and a majority are owned by Somalis. There’s also a prayer room.
The result is a place that has helped form community among the area’s new Americans.
Hassan Omar, president of the Somali Community Association of Ohio, said he visits the mall every other weekend to check in with various business owners or to meet people who are new to the region.
“When I want to meet new people, I go there,” he said.
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The impact of Global Mall
Omar said the Global Mall has provided a space in Northland for Somali entrepreneurs to open their businesses. The mall is one of more than 1,000 Somali businesses in Columbus, he added.
“We have restaurants, grocery stores. There are insurances, health care, home care, daycares and transportation,” Omar said. “Global is a landmark for the community. Even when people come from overseas and want to meet somebody, they say, ‘Let’s go to the Global Mall.'”
Nadia Kasvin, director of the refugee integration and resettlement organization US Together, also pointed out the entrepreneurial drive the shopping center has brought to the Somali community. She said people opening their small businesses in Northland have helped to revitalize the area.
“The mall was one of the first of its kind around the country, and it provided this opportunity for smaller business owners to have a home and start their businesses from there,” Kasvin said. “It’s great to see this kind of innovation within our community.”
Surviving the ups and downs
The opening of the Global Mall 19 years ago coincided with the closing of a once popular retail attraction on Morse Road — Northland Mall. As newer malls in the area like Easton and Polaris opened their doors, Northland could no longer compete.
According to a 2007 Dispatch article, there was belief within the community that the road’s retail heyday was over, but Somali immigrant Ahmed Mohamed kept his entrepreneurial dream alive by renting space in a former TJ Maxx store to create the Global Mall.
Mall manager Irad Warsame said that while business has slowed down since the coronavirus pandemic started, he still sees a steady stream of customers. He said the shopping center not only serves the Somali community in Columbus, but also shoppers from other African countries, Arabs, Indians, Nepalis and African Americans.
In particular, the Global Mall has also become a destination for Somali seniors to socialize, he said.
“The elders stay the whole day,” Warsame said. “They meet their friends, have prayer, drink coffee, shop. It’s a place where they can spend their day.”
Like many other businesses, Warsame was worried last year when the mall had to temporarily close at the start of the pandemic. But he said if the shopping center could survive the 2008 recession, he’s optimistic it can outlast the pandemic as well.
“We’re still here and trying to survive,” Warsame said. “Hopefully, we can get through this one, too. We have to stay strong, be brave and go through.”
One of the businesses that has been struggling since the pandemic is accounting business Global Tech. Owner Mohamed Farah, 40, said that tax season is usually the busiest time of the year, but he saw a significant drop in customers this year and in 2020.
He believes this is due to people filing their taxes online or not having any income due to losing their jobs. The Northland resident said he was not prepared to run his business from home when the mall closed temporarily last year.
“I was normally getting 100, 150 (customers), but the past two years have not been great because of the pandemic,” Farah said.
Farah opened Global Tech in 2011. He said went to school for accounting at Franklin University and then went on to become an accountant for other companies. While working with a friend, Farah realized he wanted to have his own accounting business.
“That’s what inspired me to do what I’m doing today,” he said. “I realized this would be a good job for me that will give me the ability to be close to my family and be able to work.”
The Somali immigrant, who came to Columbus 21 years ago, said he is hopeful business will pick up again for next year’s tax season.
“I will see what happens in the future,” he said. “I’m hoping things will become normal.”
A place like home
Global Market owner Nur Abdirashid, 40, immigrated to the U.S. from Somalia 22 years ago in hopes of finding a better life. The Northland resident opened his store, which sells products from his native country as well as places such as Kenya and Pakistan, about six years ago to provide for his wife and two children.
“I like the freedom,” Abdirashid said of having his own business.
Abdirashid said his customer base is mostly Somali, but he also sees Arabs and people from outside the community. To accommodate his diverse customers, Abdirashid sells meat that is halal, meaning that it adheres to Islamic law.
A customer who often visits the Global Mall is Abdirashid Aden. The 37-year-old New Albany resident, who is a Somali immigrant, said he often goes to the International Foods cafe on the weekends to watch soccer games, particularly the Chelsea Football Club. He sometimes brings his 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son with him, too.
“I like to talk to friends, talk history and games,” he said.
This story is part of the Dispatch’s Mobile Newsroom initiative, which is currently focused on Northland and operating out of the Karl Road branch library.
Micah Walker is the Dispatch trending reporter. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 740-251-7199. Follow her on Twitter @micah_walker701.
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