Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Places&Culture from
NY Times

HICKMAN, Ky. — There have been days lately when Mildred Johnson has had to park half a block from her storefront office. The reason, she said, is Kelly Laster. Mr. Laster moved here a year ago from Collinsville, Ill. For $9,000, he bought the old brick building that Citizens Bank abandoned 12 years before and put a pawnshop in it. Two months ago, he opened a doughnut shop next door, so now Ms. Johnson and other people in town have a place to go for lunch. In the bank's mahogany-walled boardroom, now his office, Mr. Laster said, "Next, I'm opening a produce shop." In the fall, he added, "I'm running for mayor." Like roses blooming in graveyards, entrepreneurs have brought new life to some of the comatose old towns along the Mississippi River. Creating new businesses, reinventing old ones, maneuvering around the megastores that sucked away the towns' businesses in the first place, they are resurrecting communities — or at least stalling their demise.

When Ghanaians immigrate here, they quickly display the timeless yearning of new Americans for owning a house. What makes the Ghanaians different is that the house they yearn to own is in Ghana. That explains why an odd business has sprung up on the Grand Concourse, that boulevard of dreams for earlier generations of immigrants. It is called Ghana Homes Inc., and its principal enterprise is helping Ghanaian immigrants, some of them living pinched lives as taxi drivers and nursing home aides, to buy houses in Ghana even if the buyers may never actually return to Ghana to live.

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