Florence Amoako, founder of Ako International Market in Tempe, Arizona, just celebrated 20 years in business. She is one of the first to receive assistance through the via Phoenix-based Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) and Retail, Arts, Innovation, & Livability Community Development Corporation (RAIL).
Florence Amoako immigrated to the U.S. from Ghana in West Africa 31 years ago.
“When I arrived, I was grateful to be here in the land of opportunity, but there were certain things I missed from home,” Amoako remembers. “I couldn’t find things like fufu, smoked fish, goat meat, and African yams — which are different from the potatoes they sell here — and I realized that there were other African immigrants like me who wanted the same things.”
Amoako began her journey as an entrepreneur by selling foodstuff items from her home. “I had a table set up in my kitchen and people would come to buy and I thought, ‘wow, there is really a need for these products.” She then began to sell goods to members of her church. From there she expanded to other churches, community events and African festivals, and what started as a way to provide other African immigrants with items from home, grew into Ako International Market.
Earlier this year through the U.S. Bank Access Fund in partnership with LISC and RAIL, Amoako received assistance to apply for public and private programs leading to nearly $50,000 in grants and forgivable loans. The $25 million U.S. Bank Access Fund – a fund for women of color microbusiness owners – aims to support more than 30,000 women of color-owned microbusiness owners over three years, prioritizing Black women business owners.
“As an organization that works with hundreds of small businesses just like Ako, RAIL CDC knows that keeping the local culture and community fabric of mom and pop, small businesses alive through our Equitable Technical Business Assistance Program is truly the anti-displacement strategy and a ground up economic development strategy that communities need,” said Ryan Winkle, Executive Director of RAIL CDC. “This is how you build wealth within a business corridor and the families that work in these businesses and keep them in their space, their home, their place.”
In the 20 years since she opened her store, Amoako has become a community resource for all things Africa. Her expertise is sought out by Africans looking to relocate to the Phoenix area – she recommends areas to purchase homes in, churches and community organizations. For those looking to travel to Africa, she offers advice on reputable tour companies and places to visit.
“There is so much interest in Africa right now, the culture, food and clothing. I’m proud to provide goods and information not just to Africans, but to people from all walks of life,” Amoako said.
The future is very bright for Amoako and Ako International Market. Based on customer demand, she has plans to expand her current space and open another store. For other women looking to open a business, she stresses the importance of creating a solid plan. “Make sure you have goals and don’t give up!”