Thursday, September 04, 2008

Importance of Korean Grocers

The other day in the City Room Blog. Sewell Chan focused on the contribution to NYC that has been made by Korean green grocers: "Few immigrant groups are as closely identified with an occupational niche as Koreans with grocery stores. While mom-and-pop produce stores have become an engine of economic mobility and opportunity for some Korean families, Korean produce merchants in New York City have often found themselves in conflict with white wholesale distributors, black customers and labor unions representing Hispanic employees, according to a new book by a Queens College sociologist."

But let's be clear, Sewell, it's not just that these entrepreneurs have become an engine for their own community, but rather how these enterprising small businesses folks revitalized whole neighborhood; while at the same time bringing fresh fruits and vegetables to communities that lacked good access: "Starting in the 1970s, Koreans bought small grocery stores in minority neighborhoods from retiring white owners, but more often set up new stores by leasing buildings vacated by white business owners. The stores served mostly minority customers: Caribbeans and African-Americans in Brooklyn and Jamaica, Queens, and Puerto Ricans and blacks in the Bronx."

These are the store owners who were totally ignored and disrespected when the health commissioner launched, aided and abetted by Speaker Quinn, the "green carts" initiative. In fact Commissioner Frieden never mentioned green grocers when he gave his other worldly testimony before the City Council; remarks that were properly skewered by Council Members Liu and Felder.

Friden simply had no clue about the extent to which these retail pioneers were doing exactly what he was advocating; and he ignored the extent to which his peddler nonsense would threaten the ability of green grocers to continue to thrive. In fact, the green carts law fails to understand the variables needed that would help to provide access to fresh produce by legitimate tax paying store owners-he simply doesn't care, and the plutocrat that runs the city has no interest in commerce this insignificant.

And the number of grocers, unfortunately, is declining: "The book suggests that the phenomenon of the Korean grocery — still considered ubiquitous for many New Yorkers — may prove to be only temporary. By the 2005, there were probably fewer than 1,800 Korean produce stores in the New York-New Jersey area, according to Dr. Min — a significant decline from the early 1990s."

This is what city law makers should be focusing on; not the creation of a new peddler class. We haven't heard to much about the results of this summer's green carts effort; and since the DOH controls the flow of info we're not sanguine that righteous data will be available. Just another example of how thew Bloombergistas make their own rules-to the detriment in this case of an important small business segment in the city.