Some in Chino Hills nervous about ethnic shift exemplified by Asian supermarket
(Press-Enterprise, The (Riverside, CA) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Feb. 7--The opening of a large Asian-oriented supermarket in Chino Hills is getting a mixed reception from residents, a possible sign of things to come as more companies clamor for the hearts -- and appetites -- of the Inland region's increasingly diverse population.
Tawa Supermarket Inc., an Asian grocery chain with 22 stores in California, is planning to open a 99 Ranch Market in a vacated Ralph's store in April or May.
Some Chino Hills residents said they worry the store's arrival could lead to a concentration of other Asian-oriented businesses and a proliferation of Asian-language signs and traffic similar to what exists in some Los Angeles County communities.
"It will turn into anther Rowland Heights," said Carolyn Matta, 67, referring to the unincorporated community 35 miles west of Riverside where the population is 55 percent Asian. "We're not going to be welcomed in our neighborhood."
Supporters said the store sells fresh seafood, produce and specialty items that can't be found elsewhere. The complaints smack of racism and ignorance, some of them said.
"Let us put our bigotry aside and welcome the Indians, Hindus, Asian, and other ethnicities into our neighborhoods," Michael Newton of Chino wrote in a letter to the Chino Hills Champion newspaper. Story continues below Silvia Flores / The Press-Enterprise Assistant fish manager Zhi Chi Chen, right, helps customer Megan Lee, of Irvine, shop for fresh fish at the 99 Ranch Market in Irvine recently. At least two Asian grocery chains are opening stores in the Inland Empire in the coming months.
Alan Lee, Tawa's vice chairman, said that of the company's 22 stores throughout California, some attract up to 25,000 visitors a week, and they integrate well in the communities they serve.
"We are a full-service market" catering to Asians and non-Asians, Lee said.
Timothy Fong, a professor and director of Asian-American studies at Cal State Sacramento, said many of the complaints are similar to those heard during the '80s, when an influx of Asian-oriented businesses in Monterey Park, the first "suburban Chinatown," caused an uproar and the City Council attempted to pass English-only ordinances but failed.
"Monterey Park went through a lot of upheaval that a lot of people regret," Fong said.
The Tawa Supermarket chain's push into the Inland region was inevitable given the area's growing and affluent Asian population, retail experts and economists said.
While the overall Asian population remains small -- nearly 5 percent in Riverside County and almost 6 percent in San Bernardino County, according to the Census Bureau's 2005 American Community Survey -- some pockets have grown tremendously.
In Chino Hills, a former farming community now marked by new housing and shopping developments, low crime and lots of green space, the Asian population climbed from 22 percent in 2000 to 39 percent in 2005, Census figures show. The city cites a figure of 28 percent, using a different source.
The opening of the store "is a reflection of changing demographics," said Mayor Gwenn Norton-Perry, adding that she plans to shop at the new store.
Asian-Americans are drawn to the Inland region's new homes and good schools, said Edward Chang, a UCR professor of ethnic studies.
Tawa isn't the only big player in the Asian grocery industry pushing into the Inland region. The Hannam Chain, which operates five Market World stores in Southern California catering largely to a Korean clientele, hopes to open a sixth store in Rancho Cucamonga by summer, said Vice President Steve Kim.
That city's Asian population rose from 6 percent in 2000 to 8 percent in 2005.
Experts said they predict more of these types of stores to open in other Inland cities in coming years, including Corona, whose Asian population jumped from 8 percent to 11 percent from 2000 to 2005.
What they lack in numbers, they make up for in affluence, said Julia Huang, president of interTrend, a Long Beach marketing firm that helps companies target the Asian-American community.
"At the end of the day, it's the buying power," she said. Story continues below
The 2005 census figures show that nationally Asian-Americans had a median household income of $61,094, higher than any other group.
While some regard the eastward expansion of these supermarkets as Capitalism 101 -- go where the demand is -- others view their arrival as a threat.
"We have diversity in Chino Hills and I am HAPPY with the degree of diversity we now have in Chino Hills," Larry Blugrind wrote in a letter to the City Council. "In Rowland Heights, THERE IS NO DIVERSITY -- IT'S ALL ASIAN!!!"
Darrin Lee wrote in a letter to the local newspaper that he fears a loss of the aesthetic qualities in the neighborhood.
"I see the 99 Ranch Market with its soiled concrete pathways and smeared windows covered with posters in Chinese writing. I smell the odor of spoiled seafood in the trash Dumpster out back," he wrote.
In a phone interview, Lee said the issue is not about xenophobia but ensuring that the store adheres to community standards.
Samuel Park, owner of a neighboring dry cleaning store, said he worries how the new store will impact his business, since most of his customers are non-Asian.
The 99 Ranch store can attract more customers by hiring employees who reflect the makeup of the community, he suggested.
Lee, Tawa's vice chairman, said 99 Ranch stores are similar to other large chains.
Signs will be printed in English and the company welcomes job applications from everyone, he said.
Lee said he hopes traffic from the 99 Ranch will benefit neighboring businesses and vice versa.
"We'll be a good neighbor... we'll be a plus to the city, the community," he said.
Tony Gallimore, manager of a neighboring hobby store, said he has never shopped at a 99 Ranch and looks forward to seeing what they have to offer. Increased traffic should be good for business, he said.
"We're all expecting a spillover (of customers) ... and bring up sales a bit."
However, the prediction that the new store will attract other Asian-oriented businesses is not off-base, some experts said.
When a major Asian-oriented grocer moves in, ancillary businesses, such as boutiques or medical offices, catering to an Asian clientele tend to follow, said John Husing, a Redlands-based economist.
In Rowland Heights, the 99 Ranch store is surrounded by many Asian-oriented businesses, including dim-sum eateries and clothing boutiques.
But at the World Market store in Diamond Bar, neighbors include a PetSmart and a Jo-Ann craft store.
"I don't think Chino Hills will become Rowland Heights overnight" because the Asian population is not as large, said Vilma Chau, a senior vice president at Lee & Associates, a commercial real estate firm.
At the World Market in Diamond Bar and the 99 Ranch in Rowland Heights, most aisle signs and shelf labels have English translations. Spicy kimchi soup shares the same aisle as Ragu sauce. Chili bamboo shoots are stacked near Aunt Jemima-brand syrup.
Western pop music plays over the speakers at the World Market. Promotional announcements at 99 Ranch are spoken in Chinese and English.
Rob Jaworoski, 45, a Chino Hills resident and 99 Ranch fan, said the fruit and vegetables typically cost half what you'd pay at a mainstream store.
"I think if people give it a chance and see how good it is, they'll be happy," he said.
It's unfair to label all critics as bigoted, but some of the criticisms probably are driven by an underlying anti-Asian sentiment, said Cal State Sacramento's Fong.
The sentiment is rooted in a fear that Latinos are taking over culture and Asians are taking over the economy, he said.
There are some lessons from the 1980s that residents in Chino Hills can learn from, Fong said.
The Asian-American community could try to integrate more fully into the community, by joining social clubs, for instance.
Meanwhile, established residents should accept that it's not so simple anymore to demand assimilation from newcomers.
"Change is inevitable," Fong said. "If white yuppies were moving in, would they be complaining? I doubt it."
Two chains plan to open stores in the region soon.
--Tawa Supermarket: Twenty-two 99 Ranch Market stores in California. Opening in Chino Hills in April or May.
Specialties: Fresh seafood, fruit and vegetables and other Asian food items.
--Hannam Chain: Five Market World stores in Southern California. Rancho Cucamonga anticipated by summer.
Offers: Korean, Japanese, Chinese and American food products.
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