Day 1 - MAIN STORY
Many anticipate Quincy is becoming
DEBEE TLUMACKI photos/The Patriot Ledger
|Two woman peer into the meat counter window at the Kam Man supermarket on Quincy Avenue in Quincy.|
First in a four-part series.
By KAREN ESCHBACHER
The Patriot Ledger
The 54-year-old Quincy resident used to trek to downtown Boston once a week to shop for fish, vegetables and all sorts of ethnic fare at a Chinese market. But on a Saturday afternoon last month, Sou was at the Kam Man supermarket in Quincy Point.
“Chinatown, the only problem is there’s no place to park,” said Sou, who is originally from Taiwan. “Most of the people are coming here. It’s easier.”
Quincy’s growing Asian-American community has long relied on Chinatown for any number of services, from grocery stores to restaurants to insurance agencies. But many believe that the opening of Kam Man supermarket earlier this year, the planned launch of as many as 60 adjacent retail stores next month, and the opening of the smaller Super 88 Market in Wollaston last week could be the catalyst needed to convince more Asian-Americans to do business - and eventually socialize - locally.
At the same time, the growing base of businesses will likely attract Asian-American res
idents dispersed throughout the suburbs, who want to shop for groceries, videos, gifts and a host of other items associated with their ancestry, but who aren’t willing to endure the traffic and parking hassles inherent in trips to Chinatown.
“Quincy has the potential to be an ethnic crossing, meaning it will draw people from elsewhere,” said Tom Lun-nap Chung, who specializes in community studies and who has surveyed and interviewed hundreds of Quincy’s Asian-American residents over the years. “That is where people get their business done, they meet people. I certainly can see that Quincy will be able to play that role.”
Consider: Quincy’s Asian-American population, at more than 13,500, is nearly three times that of Boston’s Chinatown. Asian-Americans now comprise more than 15 percent of Quincy’s total population, and no one doubts the community will continue to grow. But until recently, only a smattering of businesses in North Quincy, where the majority of Asian-Americans live, have catered to the community.
Nearly two decades after Asian-Americans began arriving in Quincy en masse, that appears to be changing. The result could be a South Shore alternative to Chinatown.
It may take years to realize, but some suggest this may be a significant push toward a fully integrated Asian-American community that participates in the city’s social, political and business life.
In Presidents Plaza, former home of a Bradlees department store, signs with Chinese characters welcome shoppers. The new Kam Man supermarket boasts a dizzying array of vegetables, seafood and Asian specialty products not found in typical stores. Four or five kinds of mushrooms, Fuji apples and Chinese broccoli line shelves in the produce section. Elsewhere in the store, jars of salted duck eggs sit next to bottles of Tropicana Twister juice.
Employees and customers banter in Cantonese, and Chinese-language newspapers are snatched up as people pass by.
Next door to the 40,000-square-foot supermarket, construction workers have been busy building what will be a mini-mall of sorts. The 40,000 square feet of retail space has been divided into vendor spaces, which will soon be occupied by a range of merchants.
So far, 75 to 80 percent of the space has been leased, nearly all to Asian-American business owners.
“Right now, it’s a secondary Chinatown,” said Ronald Pang, project manager for the retail portion of the Kam Man complex. “The population of Asian people in Quincy and in the suburbs, and the difficulty of getting into Boston, that’s helped us.”
Asian American Bank, which opened in Chinatown in 1993, will anchor the retail plaza. Sunshine Travel, a mainstay of Tyler Street in Chinatown since 1989, will have an office here. Gift shops plan to open, as do several cellular phone stores. There will be video rental stores that cater to the oriental market, and three or four ethnic food shops, to name just some examples.
|Roasted ducks hang from a rack at the Kam Man supermarket on Quincy Avenue in Quincy.|
Most employees will be bilingual, an important factor since more than 7,300 Quincy residents who speak Asian languages reported knowing English “less than very well,” according to the 2000 census.
Next door to Kam Man, the Jazz Moon karaoke center will open this summer. Manager Jeff Chen expects to draw a wide range of customers who want to belt out songs in Chinese languages, Korean, Japanese and English.
A Vietnamese restaurant is also slated for the shopping center. That’s in addition to International Restaurant (formerly International Buffet), which has been located there since 2000.
To Chung, all this amounts to more than just the opening of a few stores in what had been a mostly vacant strip mall.
“When the Kam Man is fully occupied it will become a magnet,” Chung said. “Now that you have a big restaurant, a grocery store plus the other shops, that offers a lot of variety. People can do a lot of things within one shopping mall.
“One of the reason previous Asian business wasn’t able to sustain was they did it in isolation,” he added. “You need a range of variety. Now that you have several things going in, you can do your shopping, your dinner, do your hair styling, hair cut, get your pastries. The sum will be much larger than the parts.”
Kam Man owners expect to draw customers not only from Quincy, but from towns throughout Southeastern Massachusetts, possibly farther. If the supermarket’s customer base so far is any indication, that expectation should be easily met.
On weekends, the market has attracted shoppers from as far as Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Maine, said General Manager Wan Wu.
Tony Sun, for example, came to Kam Man from Beverly on a recent Saturday afternoon. Sun, 45, usually visits Chinatown every three weeks to pick up some items in a Chinese market. Despite the 45-minute drive from his Beverly home, he now plans to return to Quincy every month instead.
“There’s ample parking, and there’s no traffic today,” he said.
Quincy is not Chinatown, and residents here and in other suburbs will likely never fully sever ties with the Boston neighborhood.
For starters, Chinatown is very much a hub for workers, many of whom still find employment in restaurants, said Simon Chan, who is on the boards of Quincy Medical Center and Quincy College.
Workers without cars take the Red Line into Chinatown, and are then shuttled to various restaurants throughout the region, Chan said.
And there are still many services residents cannot find here that are available in Boston. When Chung surveyed Quincy’s Asian-American residents in 1998, he found that 48 percent visited Chinatown at least weekly.
Food is a major reason. Eighty-five percent of those surveyed frequented Chinatown restaurants.
Several people interviewed for this story said that trend continues today, especially because Quincy’s Chinese restaurants are more likely to cater to white residents than serve authentic dishes. Visiting Chinatown on weekends for dim sum - small portions of food like steamed or fried dumplings or rice balls - remains a tradition in many families.
Kao T. Li, executive director of Quincy Asian Resources Inc., said other services, such as traditional Chinese medical practitioners and pharmacies that carry herbs are also plentiful in Chinatown. So, too, are Chinese-language speaking immigration lawyers and insurance agents.
|Shoppers make their way through the Kam Man supermarket on Quincy Avenue in Quincy.|
But some believe that will change, and that the number of businesses, services and restaurants that cater to the Asian-American community will continue to grow, especially if Kam Man is successful in drawing customers to Quincy.
Fred Fu is the president of the Flushing Chinese Business Association in Flushing, Queens. In Flushing, a bustling Asian business community has blossomed outside of Manhattan’s Chinatown, in large part because residents from the neighborhood and far-flung suburbs in Long Island, Connecticut and even New Jersey do not want to make the journey to Manhattan.
“Supermarket is always number one,” Fu said. “It’s number one, then all the other people come together.”
Chung said Asian-American residents would rather do business and take care of needs locally if they can find what they need - including people who speak their language.
For example, many residents who once received medical care in Boston now do so in Quincy at South Cove Community Health and Manet Community Health Center.
South Cove, which has had an office in Chinatown for 30 years, opened a clinic in North Quincy in 1995. Now, that Quincy clinic serves about 5,000 patients, compared to 10,000 patients in Chinatown.
To meet growing demand, the Quincy clinic is expanding its Hancock Street office by 2,000 square feet this month.
“When Asians come over a lot of them start out in Chinatown in Boston. As you know a lot of them are buying property in Quincy,” said Executive Director Eugene Welch. “We’ve had a steady increase in both locations, so we feel it is more important to bring the clinic to the people rather than have the people coming back to the clinic.”
Li said his agency is trying to encourage a law firm to hire a Chinese-language speaking attorney who can handle immigration issues so Quincy residents do not have to go into Chinatown. He and others think other services - like an insurance agency and restaurants that master dim sum - will eventually make their way south to Quincy.
“I think there’s going to be more and more restaurants in the future that are going to offer authentic Chinese food,” said Tony Lam, manager of Great Chow in North Quincy. “I’m a big fan of dim sum, and I don’t want to fight for parking in Chinatown.” None of this, of course, will replace Chinatown. But it will create options where they have not existed before.
“I think Chinatown will remain a mainstay,” said Tackey Chan, presidnet of the Quincy Asian Resources board. “It’s the densest neighborhood in the city of Boston, most Asians per square foot. It’s been there since 1800. It’s changed, evolved, shrunk over the years. Chinatown will not necessarily be supplanted, but it’s an issue of market forces and people’s ability to get to other options. If you’re from the suburbs and you’re coming from town, if you can stop in Quincy instead of Boston, you might.”
Karen Eschbacher may be reached at email@example.com.
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