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Saturday, May 28, 2022

Chinatown Shouldn’t Be in Market for a Wal-Mart

A few weeks ago, I learned from one of the Chinese-language newspapers that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is planning to open a grocery store in Chinatown. The article said residents don’t like the idea. Traffic in Chinatown is bad enough and a store that size – 33,000 square feet – would make it worse.

It’s not only traffic, though. Chinatown residents said they don’t want Wal-Mart here because it doesn’t provide good benefits or pay its workers enough, so Wal-Mart employees have to apply for food stamps, health care – they have to get help from the government. When the government is paying, it’s us paying.

I agree with what the residents told the Chinese newspaper. I work at Ai Hoa on Hill Street, a supermarket that has served the Chinatown community for 25 years. Our customers are a mix of local people who live in Chinatown and others who come from around Los Angeles. Non-Chinese customers also drop in and shop at Ai Hoa.

A Chinatown Wal-Mart will disrupt our local businesses.

Chinatown has been here for a long time, and there are lots of family-run businesses that have been here for decades. The small businesses survive because they can depend on a certain clientele. What will happen if Wal-Mart takes those customers away? The small shops will shut and the Chinatown community will be weakened to the point of nonexistence – most of the residents will have to move out to go live in a more Chinese community.

Working at Ai Hoa has supported my family. I’ve been able to send my two kids to college – and as a result, they’ll be able to get good jobs, not Wal-Mart jobs. If the market were to go out of business or lay me off because Wal-Mart drove out Ai Hoa, I don’t know what I’d do.

Potentially deadly competition

Many customers come to Ai Hoa for Asian food and produce, and I’m not sure whether Wal-Mart in Chinatown will stock similar products. If they do, it will be increased and potentially deadly competition. I know lots of chains, like Whole Foods and Ralphs, that stock groceries that Chinese and Vietnamese people use.

But whether they sell Asian foods or not, I’m against Wal-Mart moving in here because it will bring a poor quality of life to the neighborhood.

I was surprised to learn that some of the business groups said they welcome Wal-Mart. The Asian Business Association issued an endorsement, and members of the Los Angeles Chinatown Business Council and the Chinese Chamber of Commerce said they support it. They argue that the area where Wal-Mart plans to move in has been zoned for a grocery store for years and that Chinatown needs the business.

Chinatown does need development – I don’t disagree. We should put something in that space, but not something as big as a Wal-Mart. There should be small businesses there that serve the community. Business leaders should recognize their responsibility to lead conscientiously and come up with smart local business development solutions, not just say yes to large businesses like Wal-Mart when they show up and decide they want to move into Chinatown. The consequences of agreeing to a Wal-Mart for local businesses are potentially devastating.

I understand why Wal-Mart wants to come to L.A.’s Chinatown. Company executives want a market in Los Angeles. What I don’t understand is why organizations that say they represent business people offer them support. Do they ever think that it will hurt their businesses here in the community? They should think about Chinatown first, for residents, for the businesses.

Maybe Wal-Mart believes that the endorsement of a handful of business organization representatives means the community is behind them moving into Chinatown. But Wal-Mart is wrong. Chinatown needs economic development that protects and promotes the small businesses that form its backbone, not a Wal-Mart.

Diana Han is manager of the Ai Hoa Market in Chinatown.

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