Spotlight on immigrant businesses

for The Brooklyn Paper
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According to a new study, the majority of independent businesses in Brooklyn are owned by immigrants make up the majority of independent businesses in Brooklyn. Here’s a look at a few of them:

— Haru Coryne

Dr. John Babb
Dr. John Babb, born in Grenada but raised in Barbados, came to Brooklyn in the ’50s when he was 9 years old, already certain that he was going to be a doctor (“I didn’t really have a second option — maybe a Burger King employee,” he said). A New Yorker through-and-through, he attended Bishop Loughlin High School and Columbia University, and served with the U. S. Army during the liberation of Kuwait in the Persian Gulf War before starting his ophthalmology private practice in Brooklyn Heights.
John D Babb MD [185 Montague St. near Clinton Street in Brooklyn Heights, (718) 783-1616].

HDL Construction
Hermat Singh Dwhaj came to Brooklyn from Guyana in the late 1970s, drifting between different occupations until finally establishing his contracting firm, HDL Construction, 13 years ago. He leads a crew of up to 20 tradesmen on a variety of jobs, new and old, and is currently designing and building “green” houses back home that can stay cool without central air. “Construction — if you don’t love it, don’t do it,” he said.

Hair Heaven
Joyce Kiehm arrived in Brooklyn from South Korea to help support her husband’s Ph.D. education. Her wig business first collapsed in 1990 when the formation of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership had property taxes soaring; 2008 was déjà vu all over again, with developers buying out her landlord and demolishing her building to make way for the Brooklyner condo space. All the while, the customers she’s attracted over the years continue to commute from all over the tri-state area (including exotic Pennsylvania and the legendary Bronx) for her hairpieces.
Hair Heaven [308 Livingston St. between Bond and Nevins streets in Downtown, (718) 875-3576].

Verrazano Bicycles
Tomas Kim opened Verrazano Bicycles in 1991, three years after arriving from South Korea. He’s educated in computer programming, but the draw of all things mechanical proved too much for his white collar job: “It wasn’t for me,” he said of his computer career. “You sit behind a desk for eight hours.” Aside from being bilingual, he said that there aren’t too many advantages for the immigrant businessman, especially when it comes to navigating the city’s tax code. Twenty years down the line, however, that hasn’t stopped the gears from turning. “Beautiful,” said one patron, returning from a test run on an old bicycle that Kim repaired himself recently. “It’s just like new.”
Verrazano Bicycles [7308 Fifth Ave. at 73rd Street in Bay Ridge, (718) 680-6521].

Gihan Eldabbah came to Brooklyn from Alexandria, Egypt, in 1996. Describing herself as “business-minded,” she said that she’s always wanted to run her own store — a dream that became a reality in May, 2010, when she opened Expressions, so named for the “expression” of her adoptive community: “Bay Ridge has Arabs, Spanish, Italians, Greeks,” she said, explaining that she tries to cater her line of dresses, handbags and accessories to the diverse cultural fabric enfolding her store. With business slow, she worries that 2010 might not have been the best time for entrepreneurship. Still, she said, “I’m giving it a try.”
Expressions [7205 Fifth Ave. near 72nd Street in Bay Ridge, (718) 680-0650].

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