RAWLINS – There are endless reasons for why Ramune Soda is one of Mabuhay Oriental Market’s bestselling products.
It could be fascinating shape of the Codd-neck bottle that’s lid is sealed by the pressure of a marble. It could be the translucent liquid held in the glass bottle. It could even be the burst of citrus that tingles on your taste buds when you drink one of the orange carbonated beverages from Japan.
Whatever it is, it’s a part of a unique establishment that is home to an assortment of different pieces of Asian culture. According to Mabuhay Owner Merlie Springsteen, it may be the only one like it around.
“It’s so big (I thought), ‘Why not open an oriental store since we always go to Denver to buy our stuff?’” Springsteen said. “That’s over four hours to drive; back and forth takes you a day.”
Mabuhay was not the original plan for the building that sits on the corner of 5th and Cedar Streets. Springsteen also runs MPS Rentals LLC out of the building.
With a lone desk at the front of the store, she saw opportunity to bring her world to Rawlins and has been doing it since 2007.
Springsteen is from the Philippines. After living in Japan for some time when her husband was stationed there while serving in the U.S., she made her way to the states and brought pieces of home with her.
“Believe it or not, most of my customers here are American,” she said. “They’ve been stationed in different places and tried different foods and recipes, and that’s why they come here.”
Customers can get a taste of almost anywhere in East Asia from Thailand, China, Japan and, of course, the Philippines.
It didn’t start out that way.
“At first, I didn’t know what to carry because I only know the Filipino side,” she said. “As time goes by, customers are looking (and asking), ‘Do you have this?’ So I carry what the people want.”
It is now a Mecca of oriental culture that goes beyond food.
Some of the most beautiful paintings and sculptures grace the walls.
Furniture that seem strange to the eye, but intriguing to the mind welcomes you when you first enter the building. And clothing from a variety of places drape the shelves.
There’s even a section of NFL paraphernalia. It doesn’t have anything to do with the culture, but it’s what the people want.
Springsteen said that not even bigger cities around the state carry an array of options the way she does.
“They don’t have it, that’s why I carry it,” she said.
Less than one percent of the state’s population is Asian (4,426). Recognizing every person by country instead of continent is an even smaller fraction, and seeing that the term “oriental” only represents the eastern region of the world’s largest continent, the demographic Springsteen represents doesn’t have much representation in the Cowboy State.
As a business owner, it was originally even harder for her.
Springsteen said she went unnoticed for some time by people not even knowing the store was there. As she grew her inventory, so did her clientele. She stayed dedicated and persistent to making her way in a place she said came to her through divine wisdom.
“I don’t know if you believe me if I told you,” Springsteen said. “I saw it in the dream where to go. The Lord told me where to go.”
The store is a secondary business to Springsteen behind her rentals. She said that it has become more of a hobby for her.
From her desk where she is crunching numbers and filing paperwork, Springsteen gets enjoyment from looking up and seeing little bits of home.