Business & Economy

Wal-Mart leaves behind LA's Chinatown - and mixed emotions

Workers post a sign alerting the neighborhood to Wal-Mart's closure. The store was officially shut down this week.
Workers post a sign alerting the neighborhood to Wal-Mart's closure. The store was officially shut down this week.
Josie Huang/KPCC
Workers post a sign alerting the neighborhood to Wal-Mart's closure. The store was officially shut down this week.
Satit Thuvamontolrat, owner of Sorrento's Liquor Store across the street from the shuttered Wal-Mart. He says he will miss the additional foot traffic, and feels bad for the workers who lost their jobs.
Josie Huang/KPCC
Workers post a sign alerting the neighborhood to Wal-Mart's closure. The store was officially shut down this week.
Shoppers visiting the Walmart in Chinatown on Monday were surprised that the store had closed on Sunday.
Josie Huang/KPCC


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When Wal-Mart opened across the street from him more than two years ago, liquor store owner Satit Thuvamontolrat and other locals condemned the retail giant, fearing it would destroy the neighborhood.  

Now that Wal-Mart shuttered its "Neighborhood Market" this week as part of a worldwide wave of closures, Thuvamontolrat has more mixed feelings about the company. He's upset that dozens of workers have lost their jobs, but he will miss the foot traffic Wal-Mart brought to his store, causing alcohol sales to jump 10 to 20 percent, depending on the month. And he says the store was a real convenience for the neighborhood's large senior population.

"The old people, it’s good for them, because you know it’s close," says Thuvamontolrat. "Just walking distance."

During its short tenure as the only Wal-Mart in downtown Los Angeles, the store became an important stop for residents who wanted to find mainstream products not readily available in the neighborhood's small Asian groceries. Jimmy Yim, 92, says he will miss buying bread and meat there.

"Chinatown steak is lousy," Yim says.

Even those who fought to block the store's opening acknowledge that it filled a void for consumers who will now have to travel more than a mile to the nearest major supermarket.

"It’s not like, oh, we won!" says neighborhood activist Kenwood Jung of the Chinatown Community for Equitable Development. "Because we now have new problems that they created."

Jung, who opposed Wal-Mart over what activists considered its low wages, says he worries about those who are now unemployed. 

Steven Goode is one of them. The former deli worker took a break on Monday from helping close up the store. He says the company had given workers 60 days' pay, but he's worried about lining up another job.

"I don't have any kids but still I have bills to pay and the bills don't wait," Goode says.

Locals said they'd like to see another supermarket move into Wal-Mart’s spot. Jung suggests an Asian food store that would cater to the large Chinese population, such as a 99 Ranch.

But Loni Sung, a pre-school teacher who walked to Wal-Mart Monday and was surprised to find it closed, wants the company to come back to the neighborhood.

"I hope we have a big Wal-Mart here - bigger than this," she says.