Chinatown is a mecca of good food, but residents there have a harder time accessing what they need to cook at home. For the past two years, Chinatown has not had a full-service grocery store. There are some minimarts that sell produce, but they don’t provide many options.
The last supermarket, Ai Hoa, shut down in 2019. A developer, Gilmore, bought the property for more than $15 million and said it would open a new market, but still today, the space remains boarded up, says Andrea Chang, who first reported on this for the LA Times.
Chinatown has an aging population and many residents are low-income or are on a fixed income. “It’s about 50% Asian, and a lot of those people don't drive,” explains Chang. Many residents in their 70s or older take the bus alone and go as far as San Gabriel Valley to get the ingredients they need.
Chinatown is also fast gentrifying. New apartment units are expected to come online in the next few years.
“That's going to bring an influx of new residents into that community and they are expected to be younger, wealthier. And the commercial real estate brokers that I spoke with for the story mentioned that when that happens, retailers are going to be a little bit more motivated to bring a grocery store back to Chinatown,” says Chang.
Street vending is another problem in Chinatown. On Broadway, sidewalk vendors sell items at marked-up prices. “I spoke with a woman who lives in Chinatown, and she said she was passing by one day and saw mangoes going for $7 each.”
As the neighborhood changes, community groups talk about the importance of protecting older residents, longtime businesses, and preserving the historic identity of Chinatown.
However, the change isn’t enough to entice a supermarket to come in, a real estate broker told Chang. Retailers are more focused on hot spots like the Arts District, South Park, Little Tokyo and Bunker Hill.
“They look at Chinatown, and they see it as a place where people are visiting on the weekends and at night to come eat. But then once the sun goes down, they are no longer in Chinatown. And then what's left is low-income residents. And a supermarket sees that and says, ‘We'd actually rather open up somewhere else.’”