At first glance The Dupont Central seems like a typical appliance store. Soft rock-and-roll plays on a stereo near the front door and new color televisons line the shelves.
But over by the jewelry counter, there's an unmistakable odor of a musky incense. And in the corner is a plate piled high with oranges in front of a small porcelain statue from Asia. That, a visitor is told, is an offering to the gods for prosperity.
The Dupont Central in the Plaza Seven Shopping Center in Falls Church isn't the typical suburban appliance store. But then, the Eden Center, as a portion of the shopping center is known, isn't the typical suburban mall.
The mall, at 6763 Wilson Blvd. in Falls Church, opened in December with 15 stores operated entirely by refugees from Southeast Asia. It is just the place to get the lastest record by Elvis Phung, a Vietnamese magazine, or a small bag of dried seahorses (good, a clerk says, for skin rashes when mixed with dried deep sea fish, ginseng and other ingredients).
The mall is designed to serve refugees from Southeast Asia, about 20,000 of whom live in the Northern Virginia suburbs. Many operate small stores in the region and, for most, the shopping mall is a novel idea.
"Now it is time for us to mainstream," said Le Xuan Khoa, 57, executive director of the Indochina Resource Action Center, a national advocacy and refugee assistance organization.
Although this is not the only Asian shopping center in the area -- Arlington's Mekong Center is nearby -- owners of the Falls Church mall say they hope it will become the first of many such centers.
"In Maryland, you just have individual stores so far -- not a center yet," Khoa said. "But I believe there are some businessmen talking about it."
Khoa said his group would like to encourage more Asian-owned stores such as Dupont Center, as well as computer stores, contracting businesses and other concerns. He also would like to establish a Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce, which he says could help encourage the businesses.
"At first, we'd probably be independent, but we'd hope to later become affiliated with one of the larger chambers, because you need to work with other people," said Khoa. "That's our dream, so whenever we can do it, we will."
The Eden Center is the creation of nine Vietnamese businessmen who wanted to establish a mall that would sell everything from traditional Southeast Asian medicines to popular Vietnamese music, said Nhat Nguyen, 32, wife of one of the mall owners.
While they want to attract non-Asians, they also hope to establish a social meeting place for refugees. A community center is currently under construction in the Falls Church mall.
"We want to let the American people know that we are trying to work hard, to save ourselves and our families," said P.B. Hoan, 52, a CBS News cameraman and owner of a men's hair salon in the mall.
The salon's stylist, Hoang Tho, 66, is the father of 10 children and was well known in Vietnam. Tho said through an interpreter that he escaped four years ago by boat to Malaysia. "He had three stores, and produced his own line of shampoos. He made them himself. I was one of his customers," said Hoan.
The mall also serves as a source of jobs. Vicky Hoang, 29, who owns the appliance store, said that when she came to the United States, she worked as a waitress and hotel housekeeper and that her husband was a cook.
"But we worked hard, we saved money, and we learned English. Then, we opened this store." After all, she said, that's the American dream.