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In US, Cambodian Businesses Hurting

AUDIO SLIDESHOW in ENGLISH, by Stephane Janin.

AUDIO SLIDESHOW in KHMER, by Stephane Janin.

The economic downturn has begun hurting the US businesses of many Cambodian-Americans.

“The clients won’t come, if there are a lot of layoffs in their work,” Makkara Alexander Ju, who runs a sushi restaurant in the state of Michigan, said recently. “Sushi food is kind of an expensive food.”

People who had come in to eat two or three times per week were now coming only once a week, he said, adding that he had yet to lay off his own staff.

Makkara has 15 sushi branches throughout big groceries store in Michigan. Making them work during an economic crunch meant having twice-weekly sales. He is not alone.

Im Sonith, a Cambodian living in the state of Alabama, owns two grocery stores. His businesses have been hit by the crisis as well, though he too is weathering the storm by putting his goods on sale.

“I have discounted some of my grocery products,” he said. “The grocery companies have increased their product price, because the gasoline price had increased, so they continued to increase the price of goods. I dare not increase the price like them because people do not have very much money to spend. I sell just to break even.”

Since the middle of 2008, many US businesses have been on the decline, with major banks declaring bankruptcy and many people unable to afford houses they purchased. Lately, restaurants, bars, grocery stores, supermarkets, car companies and furniture stores are quiet and empty. At least 2 million Americans have lost their jobs, and the auto industry is facing major problems.

Mouy Chomreun, who has lived in America since 1975, has three businesses: cars sales, car maintenance and taxi rental. His car sales and repair businesses have fallen off 80 percent over last year, he said.

“Compared to last year or the year before, my businesses for renting cars and taxis is normal, but my auto mechanic business and my car sales business have decreased so much,” he said, adding that he planned to stop selling American-made cars and start selling those made in Japan, such as Toyota.

“Now people are afraid of paying for their rent, rather than fixing their cars,” he said. “For my old customers, who always came to my garage, when I tell them that the repair cost will be between $400 and $500, they are afraid of the cost. It is not like before.”