By Laurie Burstein
St. Louis is Home to Thriving Bosnian Business Community
During the early 1990s when many Bosnians fled their country during the war, news of St. Louis’ good job market and affordable housing spread quickly. Today St. Louis is home to a thriving community of an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 Bosnians, many of whom own and operate successful businesses.
South City has become the center of the
community when Bosnian immigrants moved into older neighborhoods, opened businesses and rehabbed housing, revitalizing this
section of the City.
The area surrounding the intersection of Gravois Rd. and Morganford Rd. near the Bevo Mill boasts dozens of Bosnian-owned businesses including bakeries, grocery stores, bars, restaurants, shops, a travel agency and an insurance agency. Other businesses in the area include construction, heating and cooling, and trucking.
The Bosnian Chamber of Commerce, located at 5039 Gravois Rd., now has 65
members. The Chamber offers monthly meetings, various activities and services to
Ibrahim Vajzovic and wife Fazira, are prime examples of Bosnians who left their war-torn country 15 years ago and now own two successful businesses here. When the war started in Bosnia, they were forced to flee to a refugee camp in Croatia with two small children. Speaking no English, the Vajzovics say they were fortunate enough to have friends who were already in St. Louis to sponsor them.
“We heard St. Louis was a good place to live, with a strong Bosnian community,” says Ibrahim. “When we first came here, the architecture in the City reminded us of Europe and we found the people to be very friendly.”
Though both had important jobs in Bosnia, Ibrahim the director of public transportation and Fazira a lawyer, they had to start over when they got to St. Louis. Through much hard work and schooling to learn English and earn degrees, Ibrahim eventually went on to earn a master’s degree from Webster University and Fazira earned her CPA. Today, Ibrahim teaches a class in business and management at Fontbonne University.
The Vajzovic’s are now owners of two
successful businesses: First Bosnian
Insurance Agency and Vajzovic Real Esate LLC. The insurance agency was started by Fazira in 2005 and is located at 5205
Gravois. The agency has 1,500 clients
and provides personal and commercial
In addition, the couple owns and manages 50 properties in South City. The Vajzovic’s say the City, County and State have all been very helpful.
“We like living in St. Louis for many
reasons,“ Ibrahim says. “St. Louis is very good for Bosnian people who work hard and are persistent. I have been able to be successful here and have my own business.”
And though they miss family still in Bosnia and go back to visit when they can, the Vajzovic’s agree that St. Louis is a great place to have a business and raise a family. Fazira says she feels as if she is living the American dream. “My children go to good schools and have a good future here.”
Ibrahim adds, “We are part of an established self-sustainable community. We like it here because we can be part of St. Louis and still have our culture.”
Another success story comes from Alem Boric who opened Europa Market soon after arriving in St. Louis from Bosnia in 1995. He started with one small grocery store selling imported foods from Yugoslavia and other European countries to serve the St. Louis Bosnian community. Several years later, Boric expanded the store now located at 5005 Gravois near the Bevo Mill.
Boric’s business really took off when he formed a successful partnership with an importer out of New York. Today they distribute their products in 25 states including Iowa, Kentucky, Indiana and Michigan. In the St Louis area, products like juices, chocolate and spices from Eastern Europe can be found at the Wal-Mart on Telegraph Rd., as well as in several Walgreens and Shop N’ Save locations throughout the City.
Boric says he employs 25 people and also has a warehouse that serves as his distribution center in South City. Boric received a loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration that helped him open the warehouse.
“The City of St. Louis has been very helpful to me,” Boric says. “Bosnians are hard-working people and St. Louis is a very good place to have a business.”
Bosnians have also opened a number of successful restaurants. Several examples include Grbic at 4071 Keokuk St.; Laganini Pizzeria at 4625 Gravois Rd.; Berix with locations at 5053 Gravois Rd. and another in South St. Louis; and Taft Street Restaurant at 4457 Gravois Rd.
With such a wide range of businesses, it’s evident the entrepreneurial spirit is
very much alive among the hard-working Bosnian community in St. Louis.