For more than a hundred years, Cedar Avenue has hosted immigrant entrepreneurs who created and sold the food, clothing and goods of their home cultures. They have played a central role in making Cedar-Riverside a welcoming place for newcomers and their descendants, by offering familiar foods, news from home and staff who spoke their language.
In the early 1900s, shoppers could get Swedish candies and newspapers at Samuelson's Confectionary, enjoy Danish pastries at Egekvist Bakery or grab some Norwegian cheese and sausage at Ellison's Meat Market. German toys and European trinkets delighted shoppers at Holtzermann's, and the staff spoke German, Norwegian and English. Scandia Bank, on the corner of Cedar and Riverside Avenues, opened in 1883 and provided loans that helped many immigrants start their businesses and led to a building boom in the neighborhood. Scandia Bank also provided space for numerous businesses: a shoe store, a furniture store, a hardware store, a milliner, dentists, physicians, and, in the basement, a Norwegian barber who was also a popular singer and dancer.
By the 1970s, most of the early immigrant-owned businesses were gone, but new shops opened along Cedar Avenue that catered to an emerging counterculture community who were interested in cooperative ownership and communal living. Shoppers could buy natural, organic foods in bulk at the West Bank Co-op Grocery, banana bread and granola at the New Riverside Café and handmade leather goods at the Whale Leather Shop. Eclectic rock and roll and folk records-and marijuana pipes to enjoy while listening to them-were available at the Electric Fetus. The Scholar Coffee House was a popular place for live music and even livelier political discussions.
Today, shoppers can enjoy Somali sambusas at Sagal restaurant, East African cuisine at Baarakallah Restaurant, Chinese pastries at the Keefer Court Bakery and Cafe and Indian curries at Malabari restaurant. They can shop for East African spices and halal meat (meat prepared according to Islamic law) at the Ethiopian family-owned Wadajir Grocery. They can find hijabs, Qurans and prayer rugs, incense and other East African and Middle Eastern household goods at Somali businesses like the Samiya Store or in the Al-Karama Mall. They can pick up newspapers in East African languages at most of the grocery stores, or watch or listen to BBC news reports at restaurants and coffeeshops. Hair salons and barbershops cater to an East African clientele. Some offer henna services for women so they can decorate their hands and face for special occasions. Money-wiring services are available all along Cedar Avenue, allowing newcomers to send money back to families in their home countries. The Associated Bank at the intersection of Cedar and Riverside Avenues, as well as the African Development Center up on Riverside Avenue, continue to provide loans and other support for immigrant entrepreneurs.
Through successive waves of immigration, Cedar Avenue remains what it has always been: a place to shop, socialize and retain a connection to the "old" country.