Everett’s Iraqis lose local gathering spot

EVERETT – When American soldiers toppled a giant statue of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in Baghdad three years ago, local Iraqi refugees poured out of the Colby Halal Market in downtown Everett.

They flooded Colby Avenue in an impromptu parade.

When al-Qaida operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in June, Iraqi men gathered at the downtown store to dream about returning to their homeland.

Now, the store, the only downtown sign that Everett is home to the state’s largest Iraqi community, is shutting its doors.

Rahim Delli, the store’s owner, said there were many reasons for his decision to close the store, but declined to discuss the situation.

The market was the first of its kind when it opened in 1998, said Mazin al Ramahy, who tended shop there for two years. It sold halal, or religiously permissible, meat that had been slaughtered and blessed according to Islamic law.

Small glasses of hot sugared tea were served in the back room, and boxes of dates imported from the Middle East were stored in refrigerated cases in the front room.

The large black, white and gold sign that announced “Colby Halal Market” hovered above the sidewalk, and reminded the city that Everett’s Iraqis have not only come to this city, but that they are here to stay.

Everett city spokeswoman Kate Reardon said the impromptu parade on Colby Avenue in 2003 was a monumental moment for the city.

“It showed that we were growing up,” she said. “I’m proud that our community built relationships with members of the Iraqi community so they felt comfortable expressing their views. That’s what America is all about.”

Now, eight years after the Colby Halal Market opened, there are Muslim-owned stores throughout Snohomish County, al Ramahy said. Local Iraqis will miss having a downtown gathering place, but now they have other options.

Delli sold most of his shelves and his cash register to Lafta al Ali, a refugee from Basra, Iraq, who came to Everett in 2000. Al Ali plans to open a halal market in north Everett, near a cluster of government-subsidized apartments that are home to hundreds of refugees.

“I have two daughters going to college, and my wife is pregnant,” al Ali said. “When I open a halal business, maybe I’ll make good money.”

Like many Iraqi refugees, al Ali once hoped that he would return to Iraq when it would be safe for his family. Now, his daughters want to become doctors in the United States. If they do, they’ll earn salaries that are dizzying compared to what they would make in Iraq.

Meanwhile, al Ali will stand behind a cash register, peddling Middle Eastern pastries and bottles of rose syrup, preserving his culture.

Reporter Krista J. Kapralos: 425-339-3422 or kkapralos@heraldnet.com.

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