The African and American store on Madison’s east side, nestled between East Johnson Street and Lawn Avenue, has been serving a wide variety of African foods and imports for last 13 years.
Mariama Diallo, co-owner of the African and American Store, began her entrepreneurship selling t-shirts as a street vendor in New York until she saved enough money to open her first corner store, where she sold groceries and more to nearby locals.
Diallo and her husband Mamadou Diallo moved to Madison from Brooklyn, New York, when their youngest daughter, Hawaou Diallo, was two years old to give her a better education. Upon arriving in Madison, Diallo worked in various jobs for six years before making the decision to go into business with her husband – opening a store much like the business she owned in New York.
“I’m somebody who likes to work for myself, be free, talking to people I want to talk to. I don’t want anyone to boss me, I don’t like that,” Diallo said. “I am a mother with a lot of kids, I want to be free and do my own business and be free to see my grandchildren and my kids come when they want.”
Her original idea was to open a corner store where the local community could find simple American groceries and other items, so the nearby patrons wouldn’t have to run to Walmart or Woodman’s to buy groceries
“I buy American groceries; eggs, milk cheese, and nobody bought it from me,” Diallo said. All the food Diallo started with expired and she eventually had to throw it away.
“Anyone look and see an African maybe selling eggs or whatever and they prefer to cross the street and go to Walgreens or Dollar Store,” she said.
So Diallo went back to the drawing board and decided to sell what she knows best while serving the African community here in Madison, taking 19-hour road trips to New York to purchase merchandise for the store.
“This store is important because a lot of food we have here you cannot find in Walmart, you cannot find in Woodmans, only when you come to the African store,” she said.
The store is stocked with unique items such as plantains, stockfish, palm oil, gari and a variety of Halal items as well.
“My palm oil is the best palm oil you can see in Madison,” she said.
The family operation, which continues to run smoothly with the help of all Diallo’s children, also has a large assortment of fabrics, accessories, clothing that is available for their customers, who were all treated like family as they walked around the store.
“I think we’re one of the first few African stores in Madison, so I think [the store] helps people learn more about African cultures,” said Hawaou Diallo.