Strength in Diversity
WORTHINGTON -- Since its first settlers arrived in the 1870s, the face of Worthington has continued to shift and change. Today, Worthington is dotted with businesses that cater to an international audience and reflect the diversity within the community.
"There was a time that as businesses were moving out of downtown, we had empty store fronts," Worthington Mayor Alan Oberloh said. "Now, our downtown appears to be booming, and that is always positive."
Not only do these businesses meet Worthington's needs, but they also draw in people from the surrounding area looking for specialty items.
"The thing is, people travel to Worthington to get the items they can't get elsewhere," Oberloh said. "If you go to that grocery store on 10th Street, for example, they have just about everything, and people make a special trip to get the ingredients they are looking for. We have a vast array of food and clothing options. Whether it's food to carry out or to eat in, everything seems to be available."
Panaderia Mi Tierra has been located on 10th Street for the past seven years. Like many of the businesses in town, Kerri Cuate, who owns the small shop with her husband, Juan Cuate, said their clientele is as varied as the goods they carry.
"We get a little bit of everything," she said. "The majority of our business is Hispanic people. However, we get Asian people, African people, we get a lot of Caucasian people -- they all come in. We get a little bit of everyone."
Juan Cuate is originally from Mexico, and Kerri said it was always his dream to open a bakery.
"He's a baker by trade, and so this was always his desire," she explained.
Before moving to Worthington, the couple lived in Long Prairie, a community too small to sustain a bakery.
"It just wasn't enough to keep a business going," she explained.
Worthington's multi-cultural population appealed to the Cuates, and they have been thriving in Worthington's diversity since they arrived.
"It's nice to be able to meet all the different people," Kerri said. "I enjoy the different cultures. Here in Worthington, you have people from Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Mexico, Honduras and other Hispanic cultures -- and then the African people and Asia, too. I love other cultures. So I really love that aspect -- just getting to meet other people. Sometimes I'm not always afforded the opportunity because you just have to keep going behind the counter, but I like it when I get a chance to talk with people and learn where they are from."
Like the Cuates, Bill and Mone Souksavong, owners of Top Asian Market, were drawn to Worthington because of its diverse community.
"We used to live in Sioux City, Iowa, and the reason we moved here is because there are more minorities, and Worthington is a good place to raise children," Mone said. "It's an easy place to raise a family."
All three of the Souksavong children graduated from Adrian High School and are successful in the careers they are pursuing -- son Churchill works for Apple, daughter Monicka is a physical therapist at Park Nicollet in St. Louis Park, and youngest daughter Vanessa is in medical school in St. Louis, Mo.
Mone is proud of her children's achievements and attributes their success, in part, to the upbringing they had in Worthington.
"I think that the small community and the support from friends and family helped," she said.
Mone and her husband are originally from Laos and moved to the United States in 1978. When they opened Top Asian Market, Mone admitted they didn't know if Worthington would work for what they were offering, but the business remained flexible and began to offer the products that its varied clientele were looking for.
"I think all kinds of businesses are a risk to start anywhere, even in Worthington, but how it's going to work depends on if you fit with where you are," Mone said. "I think that is the ideal. When we came here, we didn't know how the business would be, but you have to see what the town or community needs."
Mone and Bill have been happy living in southwest Minnesota and are content with their decision to start their business in Worthington.
"It's nice, because we're successful with our business and Worthington is low in crime," Mone said. "It's easy to live in Worthington, and we're very happy here with our friends and community."
Maria Parga, owner of Mini Market Lupita, formerly Video Lupita, has called Worthington home for many years. She still remembers her first impression of the community that lies hundreds of miles north of her hometown of Morelia, Mexico.
"It was summer, but I thought it was too cold," she remembered. "When they said this is the summertime, I said, 'What!? It's cold!"'
The temperature wasn't the only difference she noticed. Morelia located is in the middle of Mexico, in a region "very different" than Worthington.
"You can see everything here," she said. "There, it is all mountains."
In spite of the differences, when Parga moved to Worthington, it didn't take her long to put down roots and open a business in the community.
"I always liked to do business in Mexico, too, because it was what I like to do," she said. "For a few months I worked in Swift, but I saw the people don't have tortillas, or I was looking for something and I couldn't find it, so I thought, 'Oh, we have a necessity here.' So I started providing that."
Parga first opened Video Lupita in a building on East Avenue.
"When we started, we were renting movies, and after that we changed and starting selling other things," she said.
The business changed locations and names about three years ago, and is now in the former American Legion on the corner of Oxford Street and Douglas Avenue. It offers a variety of Hispanic goods and has a meat counter and a deli section offering popular items like burritos, quesadillas and carne asada.
While the majority of her clientele is Hispanic, Parga said a wide range of people walk through her doors.
"We have a lot of American people, too," she said. "They like to come here. We have many types of customers. They all like our food, too."
Parga said she doesn't know any other way of life. Like many of the business owners in town, she is thankful for the opportunity to develop a successful business in Worthington.
"I like to have the contact with people," she said. "There are so many responsibilities, but when you love to do something, you keep doing it. It's a part of me -- I don't know if I can do anything else. I like this kind of life. Everyone is welcome here, and we like new customers and new people."