by Suzanne Schreiner & r & & r & The Entrepeneur of Mariupol Market & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & A & lt;/span & man of compact build who speaks with only a slight Russian accent, Eric Miller's youthful looks belie his long workdays at Mariupol Market on Sprague Avenue. Miller, who is Alex Kaprian's brother-in-law, landed first in Fresno, Calif., where he lived for seven years. He attended Fresno Pacific University, earned a degree in history and went on to Fresno State to pursue a teaching degree. He wanted to teach secondary school but by that time the family had moved to Spokane to be near relatives. Miller remembers clearly the winter when family members arrived and the 1996 ice storm was wreaking havoc. He found work as a community liaison with the Spokane Regional Health District for a couple of years, but in 1999, he decided to open a small market on North Monroe catering to Russian immigrants. It was "a challenging year and a half," he recalls, marked by "lots of mistakes." His store competed against Kiev Market, which baked its own bread, he says, drawing a lot of customers.
After absorbing many such lessons, he sought advice from the Small Business Administration, eventually opening the larger store on Sprague. Together with his partner, he added breads baked fresh on the premises, as well as smoked meats and fish. At first, he says, with the sluggish economy in Spokane, it was a challenge to make money. But in time, immigrants from Ukraine and Belarus found their way to the store for familiar foods from the old country. Now sales are growing and Mariupol Market is doing fine. Miller's kids, however, want to become professionals. He encourages them because it's an easier life -- one with better hours, holidays and vacations. In the store, at the end of the day, he says, "you still have to mop the floor."
Traditionally, owning a business has not been admired in Russian society, says Miller. In fact, right after the Russian revolution, it was prohibited altogether. But Baptists had no higher education or well-paid jobs because Russian society shut them out, he says. So among them, it was good to be in business. Nowadays, Russian immigrants often go into construction because it can be lucrative but does not involve much capital. Immigrants can underbid Americans but still offer high quality, he says. Long-haul trucking offers similar advantages, so Russians buy used trucks and compete by taking lower profits. Some even become successful enough to own trucking fleets.
Miller is familiar with the criticisms of immigrants who supposedly make it tough for Americans by accepting less money or working under bad conditions, but he points out they are in a no-win situation. Either they are criticized for taking jobs from Americans and lowering standards, or for taking public assistance if they are not working. Besides, he smiles, "That's what you call competition."