Born in different refugee settlements in India, they met and married at a third settlement in that country, and from there a blissful journey of inclusiveness that is rooted always in Buddhism began for Tibetan descendants Kyizom Wangmo and her husband, Lama Jigme.
From India, Wangmo and Jigme set foot in the U.S. in 1994, first in California, then in Cottage Grove, and, finally, Eugene, where in 2001 they opened Potala Gate (Tibetan Gifts and Asian Imports) on Willamette Street. It has been a journey that includes service jobs at the start while raising two daughters, acquiring friendships at every turn and, judging from the store’s Facebook page, plenty of love.
“I was always very positive,” Wangmo says of her and her husband’s travels. “Here it wasn’t that hard. There were small struggles, yes. But people seemed very nice.”
Wangmo, sitting on a sofa in the balcony that overlooks the store, warmly smiles and laughs. “Maybe my ignorance helped.”
Potala Gate sells a wide assortment of Tibetan and Asian wares, including incense, text covers, kanglings and jewelry as well as Buddha statues and meditation clothing.
A new chapter for Wangmo and Jigme opens soon when Potala Gate, an anchor in downtown Eugene and known throughout the I-5 corridor largely through word of mouth, closes its doors on Nov. 30. The store will still have an online presence, and there will be local delivery, but now as empty nesters (daughters Kunsal and Chonyi are grown), retirement beckons with new roads to cross for Wangmo, 50, and Jigme, who is in his 60s.
There will be no more need so spend six or seven days a week at the store, and there will be no more recessions to fight through or a pandemic to think about.
“My husband had been thinking about it,” Wangmo says. “It was a positive decision. This is the time to go.”
Lama Jigme has taught Buddhist dancing. He may or may not teach again, Wangmo says, but he will travel to retreats and practice meditation. “For us, practice is more important,” Wangmo emphasizes.
Wangmo will still work with the online wing of the business, which has grown this year in the face of the pandemic. Also, she says she will look forward to volunteer work where she can find it.
Still — after almost 20 years on first the east side of Willamette Street, then the larger storefront across the street — Wangmo will miss the customers, the browsers and the people who came in just to talk.
“I was so blessed to have so many people,” Wangmo says. Potala Gate “is a place to take refuge. They want to take refuge to get away from the chaos of the street. That we will miss dearly. We get to talk. They get to know Tibetan history. It’s therapeutic for them and me.
“We are so thankful to all the support of the people of Eugene, Springfield and Lane County.”
Potala Gate (Tibetan Gifts and Asian Imports) is at 1030 Willamette Street. It will continue its online presence at PotalaGate.com or at 541-914-4765. Potala Gate offers local delivery.