St. Paul’s Hmongtown Marketplace vendors use cultural skills to succeed


Vendors at the Hmongtown Marketplace (217 Como Avenue, St. Paul) use various skills and techniques obtained from cultural practices to battle the current economic downfall.  The marketplace consists of two main buildings and a seasonal section outside. An addition to the building is currently under construction.  More than 170 vendors make up the Hmongtown Marketplace. 

Visitors taking a stroll through the buildings can hear an array of Hmong music and folklore and enjoy the flavorful tastes and aroma from the diverse variety of food available.  They can appreciate the traditional detailed Hmong clothes, story cloths, arts and crafts done by men and women.  Targeting all age groups, general merchandisers have countless items for all, including toys, jewelry, medicine, pots and pans, and more. Transitioning from their homeland to the life in America, the Hmong have brought what they know to earn a source of income.

Relocating from Wisconsin, Xue Lor knew that the future for him was to start a business in the Twin Cities.  “What prompted this quick move was the economy, I got laid off for a couple months,” he said.  The current lay-offs and unemployment rates have also affected family members.  Lor Imports LLC sells jewelry, cosmetics, and hygiene products from Southeast Asia.  To target the new and younger generations and differ from the other vendors, Lor has added custom computers to his stand.   


Necklaces are sold at Lor Imports LLC. Women usually
wear this jewelry with traditional outfits or formal attire.
(Photo by Diana Vang)

“Right now, with no jobs, my wife does not work.  I am the only one working,” Cha Her said.  Her sells a variety of movies, but has noticed the downfall of the economy has affected his sales. “Even though it is down, as long as it covers all my bills,” Her adds. CZ Miss, the shop run by Her, contains a variety of movies and miscellaneous merchandise.  Before turning to this line of work, Her worked as a machine operator.  He said his interest as a vendor is the flexibility available. 

Nyob Zoo Kitchen has been open for almost three years.  The ready-to-eat menu consists of egg rolls, curry noodles, chicken, sticky rice, papaya salad and more.  The owner, Zoua Vang, came to America six years ago. Her mother lends a hand to help her.  Vang had never worked in America, prior to opening her business.  “It was hard for me to learn English at an older age,” she said. “I came here when I was 22 years old.  The only work I did was in Thailand. I worked in a company.”


From Nyob Zoo Kitchen – each food item can be purchased separately,
or with sticky rice for a meal. (Photo by Diana Vang)

It seems lack of education is a factor for other vendors as well. “This is all what they know, so that’s what they’ve always done,” said Pa Chia Yang. “They can’t see themselves finding a job that will hire them because of their low level education.” Yang’s parents own the largest stand selling fruits and vegetables.  With a wide range of produce shipped from California and Florida, just few of the items found at the stand are oranges, tropical fruits, mangos, peppers, and tons of different greens.  Although Yang’s does work full-time, his income is not enough for the family.


Popular fruits and vegetables shipped from Florida and California.
(Photo by Diana Vang)

The vendors have noticed the decrease in sales and responded by ordering less products and decreasing the amount of food prepared daily.  Although they have been affected by the economy with a decline in sales, vendors continue these occupations as this is most familiar to them. 

The Hmongtown Marketplace is open seven days a week.  The site is located at 217 Como Avenue in St. Paul.  Don’t let the name discourage you from experiencing the marketplace. The marketplace is open to all ethnic groups, and currently it includes an African American and a Mexican vendor.  Additional information on the Hmongtown Marketplace can be found at its website.