Reynoldsburg Makes History With America's First Nepali-Bhutanese Elected Official
A bell softly chimes as a couple opens the door of Annapurna International Grocery in Reynoldsburg. It’s a popular grocery-shopping destination for the city’s Nepali-Bhutanese population.
“These are the flours and the grains," explains store co-owner Levi Sangroula. "We use this for the bread, making bread, other different types of food: Indian food, Nepali food."
Sangroula and his brother opened the store three years ago to offer groceries not readily available in Reynoldsburg—things like cumin seeds and hot pepper varieties, all ingredients necessary for Nepali-Bhutanese meals. It's one of 100 Nepali-Bhutanese-owned business now open in Reynoldsburg.
“We sell the Asian kind, Indian kind of vegetables here,” Sangroula says. “We sell other spices we need for the basic home needs.”
While Columbus holds the title of the fastest growing city in the Midwest, the suburb of Reynoldsburg is experiencing a boom of its own, attributed mostly to its rapidly-expanding Nepali-Bhutanese community.
It's that same immigrant population that helped propel Bhuwan Pyakurel to win a seat on Reynoldsburg City Council this week. Pyakurel's victory makes him the first Nepali-Bhutanese elected official in the country.
“So this is a really big deal for me and the community of Reynoldsburg,” Pyakurel says.
A Dream For Reynoldsburg
Pyakurel was elected to represent Ward 3 in Reynoldsburg. He says that Annapurna International is part of a wave of new Nepali-Bhutanese businesses.
“Five years before many of the stores on Main Street, the brick and mortar stores were empty. There was nothing there,” Pyakurel says. “Now there is very vibrant businesses running there.”
Pyakurel wants to help boost that growth as a politician.
“Running for office is my dream from very beginning, because when I was 9 years old I was forced out of the country and forced into refugee camp, where I spent 18 years of my life in refugee camp,” Pyakurel explains.
He resettled in Colorado Springs in 2009, moved to Columbus in 2014, and then bought a house in Reynoldsburg in 2016. After a campaign full of door-to-door campaigning, Pyakurel has three main focuses for his tenure on Council: infrastructure, code enforcement and better communication between the city and residents.
“I’d like to make sure we use the latest technology like simple, like everyone does Facebook Live or Youtube Live,” Pyakurel says. “Cities like the city of Columbus and others worldwide do those things, but we don’t do them yet.”
Adapting To Changes
Hari Koirala, one of the first Nepali-Bhutanese homeowners in Reynoldsburg, cast his vote for Pyakurel.
“When I come here, I’m the first one,” Koirala says. “So all the Bhutanese, they live in apartments in North Columbus. I bought this house in 2013.”
With two daughters, Koirala says quality of life was key in his decision to move to a new city. He works at an Amazon fulfillment center just a 6-minute drive away.
“I decide to buy a house, and they say the school district is good in Reynoldsburg,” Koirala says. “Everything is good. I hear from other people, then I decide to move to Reynoldsburg.”
The city estimates that it currently has around 7,500 Nepali-Bhutanese residents. While the average household size in Reynoldsburg is 2.5 people, among the Nepali-Bhutanese community that number is 6-8 due to the multigenerational households. Officials hope to get a more concise population count from the upcoming 2020 Census.
Reynoldsburg's population growth has affected areas of the city outside of Main Street. Within Reynoldsburg City Schools, district officials responded through their class offerings, hiring three additional English Language Learner teachers (previously known as "English-as-a-second-language") and a language liaison.
ELL teacher Cheryl Crooks says the district also hired its first Bhutanese teacher this year.
“It also hired three more [ELL] teachers. A couple of years ago, the district hired a language liaison,” Crooks says. “His name is Mukti Rajil, Mr. Rajil has been very helpful because he’s pretty much available anytime you need him to talk with a family.”
When Crooks started teaching ELL nine years ago, Reynoldsburg had about 400 students enrolled in those courses. Now, there are 970, about half of whom are Nepali-Bhutanese.
“We are embracing the community and want to do what we can do to help,” Crooks says.