Immigrant shopkeepers, saviours of the Dutch inner cities

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Immigrants running their own businesses in the Netherlands are doing well. They are the fastest growing group of all small businesses, and they have been an integral part of revitalising a number of inner city neighbourhoods. Like the Schilderswijk neighbourhood in The Hague, where Yildis runs a bridal gown shop.

"I was born here in The Hague. We're a family business and things are going well at the moment. So we're a happy family. It's a good business and satisfying work. After all, you only get married once and you want it to be a special day. The shop is called Saray Brides Fashion and we charge between 500 and 3,000 euros for a wedding dress, depending on how you want it. I like working and I like to work hard. If I have to work long hours, then so be it. I'm not complaining."

Long hours
Yildis and his brother do work long hours, especially in the past year when the recession has hurt their sales. Long hours tend to be the norm among small businesses. But immigrants are ready to give it their all to keep their business afloat.

"My name is Jasmin and we have an administration office. We recently opened a debt collection agency as well. We've seen how when businesses suffer setbacks they just work harder. People from ethnic minorities just keep carrying on."

Down the street from Jasmin's office is a small supermarket which has been run by Jamal and his father for nearly two decades.

"I'm Jamal and I'm 27. I took over the family business from my father. We've had this supermarket for 19 years and I've been working here for nine years. I work from nine in the morning to seven in the evening, six days a week. Long days and hard work. You won't see Dutch people doing it. No, I'm just joking."

No joking
But Merdan Yagmur from the Dutch small and medium enterprises association, doesn't think Jamal is joking when he says immigrants work harder.

"One in eight business entrepreneurs come from non-western backgrounds. And that number is growing. There are one million independent businessmen in the Netherlands, which means 122,000 are non-native Dutch. Many of them also do business with their country of origin, which makes them international entrepreneurs."

But immigrants are not just important in the world of small entrepreneurs on the whole. They are also revitalising inner city neighbourhoods around the country.

"Many native Dutch shopkeepers have left the inner cities. Looking out my window I can see perhaps 30 different shops to the left and to the right. Only two of them are run by native Dutch businessmen. I can't imagine the major Dutch cities without shops, without entrepreneurs, without people with the ambition to make something of their lives. We can't live without those people."