About Little Mekong
Located between Mackubin and Marion on University Avenue in Saint Paul
The Little Mekong Cultural District (Little Mekong) was named after the Mekong River that flows through many Southeast Asian nations, including China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Like a river connecting many ethnic Asian cultures through space and time, the district’s namesake seeks to honor the heritage, history, and presence of the businesses owned and operated by Saint Paul’s Southeast Asian population.
Little Mekong is in the business of community building and family wealth asset creation. It does this by developing its existing assets: Asian & BIPOC small businesses, physical assets and infrastructure, and cultural and social capital. When the assets of Little Mekong are strong, investments will flow to district, and, therefore, we will achieve economic and environmental sustainability, community livability, and wealth asset creation for families.
Little Mekong is not a business entity. It is an initiative of Asian Economic Development Association (AEDA), a 501c3. Little Mekong is a district whose members are small businesses, property owners, and community organizations. In the future it could transform into an officially sanctioned Business Improvement District (BID).
AEDA creates pathways to asset and wealth creation for Minnesota Asian communities. We implement integrated services in small business development, asset development, financial capability, workforce development, and cultural placemaking. AEDA’s mission centers on addressing the systemic challenges and barriers preventing Asian Americans from accessing economic opportunities and achieving economic inclusion.
Little Mekong’s strives to create a world-class destination of Asian & BIPOC businesses and cultures in the Twin Cities.
Support Asian & BIPOC Small Businesses: Build a strong base of locally owned Asian & BIPOC small businesses through business development, retention, and expansion strategies
Creative Placemaking: Cultivate arts and cultural assets for economic development and community preservation
Build a Supportive, Safe Community: Develop the physical assets of Little Mekong to build a community space of creativity and aesthetics, a healthy pedestrian environment, and a living business district
Celebrate Diversity: Promote diversity through highlighting Asian & BIPOC cultures and creating intercultural connections
AEDA organized in 2006 to support and advocate for Asian small businesses in response to Light Rail Transit (LRT) development on University Ave (2006-2013). In 2009, AEDA incorporated as a nonprofit to continue its efforts.
In 2012, the Little Mekong brand was launched with the above stated mission and goals. The brand was created with the recognition of the 30-year history of Asian businesses and the Asian community in the area. Although the official boundaries of Little Mekong were not formed until 2012, many immigrants and business owners in district have been living and working in the area for decades. The area has a strong Southeast Asian presence dating back to the 1970s when Vietnamese, Hmong, Laotian, Cambodian, Thai and other ethnic Asian groups fled their homes due to political conflict and persecution. Many of the Southeast Asian (SEA) refugees settled in the Frogtown neighborhood of Saint Paul
However, when Southeast Asian immigrants and refugees started opening businesses along University in the 1970s, the area was less than ideal for residential and business development. Hindered by many undesirable characteristics, such as crime, prostitution, poverty, and vacant properties, recent immigrants and refugees chose the area for its affordable rents and properties as well as for minimized competition with other businesses. Over time, these pioneering business owners transformed an underdeveloped and previously undesirable area into a recognizable Asian immigrant community with a high-density of Asian-owned businesses in the Frogtown neighborhood.
In 2011, 35% of neighborhood residents were Asians, and there were over 200 Asian owned businesses on University Avenue in Little Mekong and beyond it. Little Mekong, a five-block strip of the avenue, has but 80 Asian & BIPOC businesses and a 25% vacancy but has the highest concentration of Asian businesses in the city. These small businesses in Little Mekong include grocery stores, liquor stores, restaurants, health services such as medical, dental, and chiropractic, social services, automotive, legal and financial services, travel agencies, cultural and religious institutions, hair and beauty salons, retail, insurance and more. About 90% of these active businesses are minority-owned. Of all the business that are owned by communities of color, about 76% are Asian-owned businesses.
As a unique cultural and ethnic business community, Little Mekong allows visitors and community members the opportunity to have diverse and vibrant experiences. The community offers authentic ethnic foods, grocery goods, medicine and traditional clothing that are difficult to find in other areas in the Twin Cities region. Moreover, the district is home to many nonprofit organizations such as AEDA, Aurora St Anthony Neigborhood Development Corporation (ASANDC), Springboard for the Arts, Vietnamese Social Services, Hmong Cultural Center, and Hmong American Partnership (HAP)7 that actively advocate on behalf of these small ethnic-oriented businesses.