LOS ANGELES, Calif. –With the lighting of each incense, Anh Ngo is praying for this tough time to pass.
“I’m praying for peace, but I don’t think it’ll happen here. I have to leave,” says 70-year-old Ngo.
Ngo has spent half of her life running Ai Hoa Market with her husband, Huy Hang, after they took over the business in 1984, purchasing the store from Hang’s brother. Ai Hoa is known as the last full-service Asian grocery store in Chinatown.
Most of the family’s customers are seniors who walk to the store to buy fresh produce and Asian ingredients at low prices. Now Ngo and her family are preparing to relocate their store about 20 miles away to South El Monte. They plan to open their new store on November 12.
“I feel sad whenever I think about our longtime customers. When I told them we had to close the business, my customers hugged me and cried with me. I love my customers and will miss them so much. I’ve been here for 35 years and now the new owner is making things difficult for me so I have to leave as soon as possible,” said Ngo.
She says a new landlord took over the property about a year ago and started charging her several thousand dollars a month to use the parking lot. Ngo has to pay for her car and her employees cars on top of validations for customers.
“When customers come in, they only get a 30 minute grace period. They rush to buy what they need, so they end up buying very little. So I end up paying more than what I’m bringing in,” says Ngo.
Spectrum News 1 reached out to Gilmore China Group, the company that runs and manages the property where the market is located. The property manager said the parking lot prices given to Ai Hoa Market are below any comparable market rate for parking in the area. They say a lease negotiation is still on the table.
However, Ngo and her family stands firm on what they believe has made it difficult and impossible for them to negotiate a fair lease.
Ngo’s customers haven’t taken the news well either. Srey Mao, a longtime customer, considers Ai Hoa Market as her neighborhood market.
“I’m in my 40s now. I’ve been coming here since gosh 15, 16 years old. My parents always came here and now we’re all grown up and I am pretty bummed they were heard they were leaving,” says Mao.
Despite feeling torn, Ngo says she is getting older and doesn’t want to be depressed because of what’s happening. So she and family are planning to close the market and start over in a building they own in El Monte. Their new store location will be called Ai Hoa Central Market and it is located on 1952 Central Avenue, South El Monte.
The family is hosting a farewell event along with Chinatown Community for Equitable Development, an organization that rallies against many civic issues like gentrification and the lack of affordable housing, at their store in Chinatown on Saturday, November 9, at 11 a.m.