This story is part of a series on the disruptions to local small businesses expected in the community of Altadena when a new Walmart Neighborhood Market opens next year. To read the rest of the series, check out the links at the end of this story.
On a sweltering summer afternoon, Oscar Bell Jr. strolled into All Star Liquor in Altadena. He often goes there to buy t-shirts, but on this particular day he was buying a big can of beer.
“This business has supported me,” said Bell, a self-employed painter, who has come to this store ever since he was a young boy. “This is my store. I love this store.”
Business owner Sanghui Yoo beamed with pride. Yoo and her husband run this small convenience store, watching over shelves of cookies, medicine, t-shirts and of course, a large collection of liquor behind the front counter.
The Yoos chose this location on the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Figueroa Drive seven years ago because it was a busy intersection. The Yoos bought the property and invested all their money into All Star Liquor.
“We love this place, this corner,” Yoo said.
At first, Yoo said business was plentiful, but then larger competitors swarmed into their neighborhood, cutting into their sales.
Independent grocery chain Super King Markets opened three blocks away, dropping sales at All Star Liquor by 10 to 15 percent, Yoo said. Then the recession came and slowed down consumer spending. Now, Yoo says she’s up against her biggest challenge yet—a new Walmart Neighborhood Market across the street.
“Economy problem, (Super King) problem, plus, Walmart problem. What can you do?” Yoo said. She estimates sales could drop an additional 20 to 30 percent when the Walmart store opens next year.
Bell, who often shops at All Star Liquor, said he still plans to buy clothing there.
“I don’t think it’s going to take business from here, because everybody is like family from here,” said Bell, a 36-year-old Altadena resident.
But former Altadena Town Councilmember Tecumseh Shackelford calls liquor stores like All Star Liquor a “real problem.” He said those stores encourage crime and loitering.
“We want to get rid of all the liquor stores and put the alcohol in the (grocery) markets,” Shackelford said.
Wal-Mart hasn’t applied for a liquor license yet, but a county official said the retailer indicates it may to do so in the future.
Yoo of All Star Liquor said one good outcome of the Walmart is that it will bring more traffic at night and brighten up the area, which isn’t very well lit.
That was the only compliment Yoo gave Walmart, before continuing to explain how terrible it will be to her business.
Yoo plans to sell fewer food items, like candy, but sell more liquor to offset the sales she will lose to Walmart.
“We can’t compete. Their price will be very much, much lower than ours definitely. That’s why,” she said.
Yoo and her husband have been in the convenience store business for 20 years, shortly after emigrating from Korea. Her husband has trouble sleeping just thinking about Walmart.
“All we know is this kind of business,” Yoo said. “If we fail with this kind of business, we don’t have any idea of what to do.”