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Wed., May 19, 2010

Give district a chance to transform reputation

Yes, there is an International District in Spokane. You might have missed it since it takes in only about a mile of East Sprague Avenue and it doesn’t have a big banner proclaiming its existence. But slowly the area is developing an identity that is helping push out its bad reputation.

Spokane isn’t the most culturally diverse city, so it is exciting to see the flowering of immigrant-run businesses that expand the range of offerings for shoppers and diners.

Last Friday, volunteers embarked on an extensive cleanup mission and added some flowers along the way. The seeds for the district were planted when entrepreneurs took a chance by opening ethnic businesses in a run-down area of the city best known for streetwalkers and drunks.

Last summer the city officially labeled the area between Helena and Crestline streets the International District for its mix of ethnic markets and restaurants. Just east of these businesses are a Mexican restaurant and a delicatessen and bakery specializing in Ukrainian, Russian and Eastern European products.

It’s a part of town where diners can sample their favorite Vietnamese soups, cooks can buy specialized groceries, and dessert lovers can enjoy their favorite Ukrainian cakes. It’s also a place where new immigrants can buy familiar publications and videos.

As part of the East Sprague reclamation, the City Council designated an Alcohol Impact Area between Perry and Rebecca streets and from Main to Fifth avenues, which asks for voluntary buy-in from merchants to stop selling single containers of high-alcohol beer to stem the problems associated with public drunkenness.

The hope is that East Sprague can overcome its tawdry past and appeal to a wider set of residents, tourists and the growing number of college students. A pedestrian bridge is on the drawing board to connect the University District to East Sprague businesses.

Starting any business can be daunting, but immigrants face language barriers and a long list of unfamiliar rules and regulations. And as with any development in the city, the overall vision can sometimes be undercut by City Hall departments that seemingly look for ways to say no.

Still, this dream just might be realized because the current business owners are working hard to establish a district we can all be proud of.

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