Tibetan refugees to American entrepreneurs

Decades after coming to U.S., business owners to open shop in Oak Park

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

Sharing their culture and making a good living doing it is nothing new to Lhakar Dolma and her parents, Sonam Gyaltsen and Tsering Kyizom – the family has been selling goods from their native Tibet for the last decade and a half in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Dolma told Wednesday Journal they're bringing their store, The Himalayan Boutique Company, which specializes in Tibetan, Indian and Buddhist culture, to the Hemingway District at 130 N. Oak Park Ave. sometime in early July.

It's been a long road for Dolma and her family, who came to the United States from Kathmandu, Nepal, as political refugees in the 1990s after escaping from their homeland of Tibet.

Dolma said they immigrated as part of the U.S. government's Tibetan Resettlement Project for political refugees. Soman Gyaltsen, her father, was the first person in Kathmandu to receive a visa from the U.S. government through the program and came to the U.S. in 1992.

A 1991 New York Times article noted that the resettlement program allowed 1,000 Tibetan refugees. Few had been allowed in the past "largely because Washington has been reluctant to displease China by giving Tibetans either refugee or immigrant status" due to the country's occupation of the country since 1950, according to the article.

Gyaltsen worked as a waiter and busboy in the beginning but began making money on the side by selling Tibetan and Indian goods at flea markets and craft sales in Santa Fe. The family ultimately opened a storefront business, she said.

"At that time in Santa Fe [seeing Tibetan and Indian goods at a flea market] was a culture shock for a lot of people," Dolma said.

She said the area was then flush with tourists who wanted to learn more about Buddhism.

"It was great for us because we were able to show people where we came from," Dolma said.

 She said times have changed, though, and tourism has waned in the state capital. Dolma said her family has been thinking of moving the business for a while and chose Oak Park because "it seemed like a diverse community, so we thought it would be the best place to put our store."

The Himalayan Boutique Company will carry a wide variety of items, many of which are handcrafted by Tibetans in exile, according to Dolma.

"We can't get them directly from Tibet because of the Chinese conflict," she said.

Tibetan-inspired jewelry, prayer flags, incenses, tea, clothing and massage oils are but a few of the items that will be available, she said.

And Oak Park is just the beginning for these entrepreneurs.

"My personal goal is to have at least two or three more in the Chicago area," Dolma said.

She said Oak Park was a good fit because the family also plans to sell their goods at arts and crafts shows in the city.

"Oak Park is in close proximity to the city where there are more opportunities to get the word out there and reach more customers," she said. "We want people in Oak Park and anybody to be welcomed into the store and get an understanding of what Buddhism is, what Tibet is, who Tibetans are and an understanding of our culture and beliefs."

The new shop was formerly occupied by Amour de La Terre shoe store, which closed earlier this year. The landlord in the lease transaction was represented by David J. King and Geraldine M. Healy, of David King & Associates.

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com


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Leslie Roberts from Oak Park  

Posted: June 17th, 2017 12:55 PM

There are also several sangas in the village and several Chicago suburbs, putting O.P. in the center. Terrific!

Christine Vernon  

Posted: June 16th, 2017 9:26 PM

This is really wonderful news! It's so pleasant to read good news like this.The fact that a family like this would be interested in coming to Oak Park and thought that it was attractive because "it seemed like a diverse community". We are lucky that this impression would attract something special like this shop and its owners. I can't wait to visit their new place on Oak Park Avenue.

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