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Discrimination prompts Scappoose store owner to consider closing

Mila Prakash says she experiences racism daily after opening shop


by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: ROBIN JOHNSON - Mila Prakash opened Shannons Boutiques and More in honor of her son, Shannon who died in 1999 of a brain tumor at age 10. Mila Prakash has been running Shannon’s Boutiques and More with the help of her son and daughter-in-law since April 13. Originally, Prakash wanted to open an Indian restaurant, a culinary reflection of her heritage, but costs were too high.

So far, Prakash has struggled to sell enough jewelry, clothing, furnishings and gifts to pay rent on the store — located at 33555 E. Columbia Ave., Suite 211 in Scappoose — but it hasn’t only been the slow business that has led her to consider closing the shop down.

Every day, Prakash says, customers will walk into her store and exit immediately upon seeing her, often making racist remarks.

“What really hurts the most is my little girl sees everything” Prakash said, motioning to her 12-year-old daughter, Ayesha. “She has to see me here crying. She asks me, ‘Is this every time?’ I say, ‘Yes.’ Every day people come in and don’t say a word, or just start calling me names.”

On Saturday, June 29, Prakash’s luck turned when a group of community members trickled into her store throughout the day, delivering bouquets of flowers to show their support.

“Fifteen people brought me flowers, and I had almost 50 people come into my shop that day,” Prakash said. “I haven’t seen more than a couple people in my shop on a normal day.”

Tim Hammerbeck, of Columbia Feed and Supply Inc., noticed that Prakash has posted a story on Facebook detailing an account of an experience with a particularly racist customer, so he decided to reach out to her.

Hammerbeck spread the word that anyone wishing to show support to Shannon’s Botiques and More could drop by Columbia Feed and Supply, located just across the parking lot, pick up a free bouquet and deliver it directly to Prakash.

Prakash said Hammerbeck was the first to arrive in her shop Saturday, wrapping his arms around her and delivering a large bouquet. “I just started crying,” she said.

Hammerbeck said he was already “charged” when he read Prakash’s Facebook post as he saw it after overhearing some of his customers criticizing the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, an issue Hammerbeck says, “isn’t about marriage at all, but equality.”

Hammerbeck planned a large portion of the effort through Facebook and said people from across the U.S. were showing their support through the Web.

“A couple people from Canada said they were going to make a trip down here just to see her shop,” he said.

Prakash said she plans on closing the shop down when her lease is over in September because of the discrimination she has experienced.

Prakash and her family moved to Scappoose in 2001.

“Not until our store was open did we start experiencing racism. Now I know what they think,” she said. “This community is very nice, but they started this. Why us?”

Prakrash said the support from the community on Saturday made her re-think her decision to close the store, but finances are still tight.

“It was a good day,” she said.