We introduced you to Kutukira Mberwa about a year ago when the Boise International Market was celebrating its grand opening. We heard from her again last September after she lost her business when the market was destroyed by a fire. Two weeks ago, Mberwa and husband Abdul Mukomwa reopened Loba African Fashions. Loba sold traditional African cloths, jewelry and accessories from its stall in the international market. It will sell those things again, and offer food and cooking products, at its new shop on Boise’s Vista Avenue.
“We lost hope when the fire took everything,” Mberwa says. “Now we’re have hope again.”
Their three young children are running around the racks of brightly-colored African dresses and shirts. They come along when it’s Mberwa’s turn to run the shop. The couple and a cousin who is also a partner have to keep the store staffed around their other jobs.
The food section isn’t finished yet but it does have a few things: cooking pots, rice, tea and some mysterious wooden objects with a round, serrated blade sticking out. Mberwa says they’re coconut shredding stools and they’re common back home.
Mberwa and Mukomwa are refugees from Tanzania. They’ve been in Boise more than a decade. They say they loved being part of the Boise International Market but Mukomwa says they didn’t know when or if something like it would be built.
“If another location like the Boise International Market opens, I’ll be the first one to sign the contract and be one of the members there,” he says. “But the thing is I want to see myself do stuff. Just sitting back and just kind of waiting and stuff like that. That’s just not for me.”
Mukomwa says they didn’t borrow money to open the shop and they didn’t get insurance money after the fire. He says they used savings and sold land they owned in Africa.
Despite the impatience to get started and the restored sense of hope having their own business again brings, the couple also says they’re kind of scared. Opening a business is always risky and theirs may be particularly so. They don’t think they’ll make it if only other Africans shop at Loba. They need customers from the broader community.
They had a lot more security at the Boise International Market. There was lots of foot traffic and the couple shared rent with other businesses. Now, they’re somewhat hidden behind a comic book shop and they’re on their own. So far they’ve only made about $150 in sales.
Find Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam
Copyright 2016 Boise State Public Radio