Colima Road: Neighborhood Puts Cultural Face on Firms

Staff Reporter

At the Hong Kong Supermarket in Hong Kong Plaza, the chatter among the staff is in rapid-fire Chinese and the food selection is Asian.

At the adjacent Lollicup tea station, the young women working behind the counter blend honey dew milk teas and bubble teas with swift ferocity as they gab in non-stop Chinese punctuated with bursts of laughter.

This could be Taiwan, China or Hong Kong.

But it's Colima Road, a long thoroughfare stretching between Hacienda Heights and Rowland Heights that is poised to be the area's next major Chinatown.

Already three 99 Ranch Markets dot the area, one of the largest concentrations this Orange County-based Chinese supermarket chain has in any one place.

Scores of Chinese restaurants are crammed into mini-malls that from the outside have a nondescript American look to them, but inside are alive with Chinese colors and culture.

Up and down the road, the retail signs are printed in a blend of English and Chinese characters.

"Colima Road is going to grow similar like Atlantic Boulevard grew in Monterey Park," said Brian McDonald, a vice president with CB Richard Ellis, a commercial real estate company.

McDonald was referring to the Monterey Park boulevard that over the years evolved into a vibrant suburban Chinatown, outpacing the downtown L.A. Chinatown established in the 1930s.

Hacienda Heights and Rowland Heights are already exploding with Chinese workers who live in the area and work in adjacent towns like City of Industry where hundreds of businesses are being started by Chinese entrepreneurs.

"Last year, out of 300 use permits or business licenses issued, about 50 percent of them had Chinese surnames," said Don Sachs, the executive director of the Industry Manufacturers Council, which serves as a sort of chamber of commerce for the City of Industry.

The Chinese have become such a major influence that when the Puente Hills Mall on Colima Road was purchased by the Krausz Company in 1996 the new shopping center owner decided to have a feng shui master analyze the center court area which was dominated by a carousel.

"We recognized that we had a strong Asian community, especially Chinese, that have a long-held belief in the art of feng shui," said Jonathan Alpert, the mall's general manager. "According to the feng shui expert who came in, the carousel was moving in the wrong direction, driving the money out of the mall. That is one of the reasons we put in a koi pond there. Now we have a center court area that is pleasing and comfortable and brings in customers." (They took out the carousel.)

The 1.2-million-square foot mall is nearly 100 percent filled now with new stores such as a Burlington Coat Factory, a Ross Dress for Less, and an Old Navy.

Buddhist temple

Feng shui is being incorporated in many of the new homes being built in the area burgeoning with new Asian residents. Many are moving because the area has the largest Buddhist temple in the United States. The Hsi Lai Temple, sprawling across 15 verdant acres tucked into the hills of Hacienda Heights, opened in 1988.

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, Asians make up 36 percent of the population in Hacienda Heights and 50 percent of the population in Rowland Heights.

In Chinese philosophy, it was only natural that the Asian population move east from Monterey Park.

Peter Lee, an associate vice president at Grubb & Ellis Co., said east is where the sun rises, spelling prosperity for businesses. West is where the sun sets and dies, meaning doom for one's endeavors.

So the Chinese leapfrogged over El Monte, Baldwin Park and La Puente, and moved to Hacienda Heights and Rowland Heights, where the school districts are better.

With them comes an influx of restaurants, clothing stores, supermarkets, and real estate companies which are catering to people from different regions of the world.

"We have a large portion of retirees who used to live in Los Angeles or other states who have moved in. They like to live here so they can shop for what they want and eat what they want," said Kuan Sung, a real estate agent with Remax 2000.

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