ERIE, Pa. — The scent of seasoned lamb and other halal meats fill the air at the Lemon Fresh Meat Market on the corner of East 26 and Parade streets.
Owner Qays Alkarkhy of Erie opened the market, which specializes in traditional Middle Eastern foods, in September 2017.
“Middle Eastern people live here, and even the American people–they like to try something different,” he said, referring to his customer base.
But the journey to where he is has taken some detours. After leaving the United Arab Emirates in June 2016, he lived in Erie for less than a year before moving to Detroit. He returned to Erie last year.
“I moved from Michigan. In Michigan the competition is very high. We cannot compete there, because there are so many offering the same things.”
Alkarkhy said opening a business creates opportunities for other people.
“If I open a store, somebody else will open a store. Somebody else will open something else. Somebody else will open a factory.”
Mayor Joe Schember hopes that kind of synergy attracts new residents.
He said, if the official U.S. Census population count falls “under 100,000, we start to lose money from the state and federal government. Immigrants coming in are helping to keep us at that 100,000 level. And we’re certainly hoping to grow that over time.”
According to to 2016, U.S. Census estimates, 7.3 percent of the city’s residents were born in another country.
Schember said the diversity is beneficial.
“They also bring unique and a unique culture that we haven’t experienced before, and we get to experience that and learn from them and they learn from us,” he said.
“It’s a culture,” said Alkarkhy. “The food is culture. And you can say the language is culture. So, we would like the Americans to share this with us.”