A woman browses the selection of apparel outside Salad’s shop Saturday July 13. The mall is popular with men, women, and children alike, and vendors cater to all with their clothing offerings. “Sometimes people come by themselves,” Salad said. “But sometimes everyone comes.” | Photo by Zach Walker

The mall mother of Little Mogadishu

Zach Walker
Jul 14, 2019 · 4 min read

Marian Salad supports her son by running a booth at the Riverside Mall in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis, Minnesota. A single immigrant mother from Kenya, Salad has endured civil war, loss of family, and a difficult financial situation to craft a new life.

By Zach Walker | Bethel University Clarion

Marian Salad sat behind a desk covered with gold-rimmed glassware and tubes of lip gloss. Paisley dresses and patterned rugs lined the walls as she waited for the next customer. The next sale. The next meal for her son.

Salad owns a booth inside the Riverside Mall in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis, Minnesota, often referred to as Little Mogadishu due to its high population of Somali and other East African immigrants. A single mother from Nairobi, Kenya, her booth at the mall helps to ensure the stability of her new home.

“I have to say to America, thank you so much,” Salad said.

The ongoing civil war in Kenya that killed several members of her family brought Salad to America after her sisters gifted her a green card. She opened her Riverside shop in 2010 and joined the group of East Africans who sold goods like traditional apparel and snack food.

Every Saturday and Sunday, she enters the blue brick building on 16th Avenue and snakes through corridors blotched with a rainbow of hanging fabric. Monday through Friday, she works on a factory assembly line.

“It’s hard when you’re not close. We pray for the people back home.” — Marian Salad

On April 28, 2013 at 5 a.m, Salad gave birth to her son, Zakari. At 3 p.m., her husband, who she met after coming to Minnesota, died unexpectedly. From then on, she supported her son alone. No husband and no handouts. Just her, an assembly line, and a booth full of colors.

“It’s hard when you’re not close,” Salad said. “We pray for the people back home.”

After dropping Zakari off at school, she’d leave for the factory. After she clocked out, she’d pick up her son, help him with homework, push him on the swing set, make dinner, go to bed, and repeat the process the next day.

Come weekends, she’d drop Zakari off at Madrasa, a religion school at a local mosque, before manning the Riverside booth.

Her factory income pays the rent and insurance. Extra income from the mall allows her to buy food, afford education for her son, and send monthly funds to her family in Kenya through a kiosk just feet from her booth.

And she has never accepted government aid.

“With the money, it’s tough. You’re constantly working hard, and you don’t have enough,” Salad said. “I do what I can to survive here. I’m working. I’m healthy. I’m young.”

A group of traditional dresses hang from the walls outside Salad’s shop. Silky apparel covers every inside wall and chairs with stacked rugs in plastic wrap pepper the floor. | Photo by Zach Walker

The Cedar-Riverside community, or Little Mogadishu, is home to a majority Somali population and is part of the Twin Cities, which houses the largest Somali group in North America. Other East African groups, Cambodians, and Latinos also call the community home.

East African restaurants like West End have mixed with Minnesota institutions like Palmer’s Bar and The Wienery hot dog shop while three mosques have been erected along the streets, one taking the place of a former bar.

Abdirizak Bihi, the Cedar-Riverside Community Outreach Consultant, remembers his friends getting kicked out of the Mall of American after trying to haggle with the cashier over a price tag. In East Africa as well as the Riverside Mall, the listed price is always up for negotiation.

He also remembers that corner of town before the mall. The empty lot and patchy grass.

“It used to be a rough neighborhood,” Bihi said. “The mall has transformed this community.”

On a recent Saturday, Salad laughed with two other vendors in her shop. But she soon had to leave. She had lunch to make, a son to play with, bills to pay. She had life to live.

The dresses she sells are manufactured in Dubai, Saudi Arabia, China, and the United States. But they all end up at Riverside. Like Salad, they exist peacefully in a neighborhood of familiar faces.

“I’m at peace.” — Marian Salad

In the future, Salad wants to walk across a graduation stage with a college diploma in hand. But her life is too busy to permit that. School wouldn’t fit between the factory and the mall and her son. But right now, that’s enough.

“I’m at peace,” Salad said.

Zach Walker

Written by

Bethel University storyteller. Likes watching Oscar nominees, water skiing while his dad drives the boat, and picking orange in Settlers of Catan.

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