Vietnamese supermarkets are moving from downtown San Jose to other neighborhoods, raising questions about access to authentic grocers as the city’s core struggles to retain its retailers.
Đại-Thành Supermarket, a family-owned Vietnamese market on South Second Street that opened in 1985, closed its downtown location last December, and reopened in January at a new location in Berryessa. While Thien Thanh Supermarket is one of the last Vietnamese markets in downtown San Jose, it’s working to stay afloat amid rising inflation and labor costs.
Alanna Hua-Yamada, Đại-Thành family member and spokesperson, said the retail market in recent years gravitated toward where residents moved. She said a lack of parking, outgrowing the former space and overhead business costs played a role in the downtown closure. The owners added a second store on Tully Road last June.
“(We) thought it was a good time to relocate to an area that better serves our customers,” Hua-Yamada told San José Spotlight.
Grocery stores are quickly becoming few and far between in downtown San Jose. Hua-Yamada said many elderly Vietnamese residents no longer have a market within walking distance.
A Safeway shuttered its doors in 2019 and has remained vacant, with residents and experts citing the area’s lack of free parking and concerns about safety as reasons for the closure. Other major retailers have left in recent years, including the family-owned grocery store Zanotto’s, Ross and CVS.
Meanwhile, Vietnamese businesses are still working to survive post-pandemic. Small business owners struggled to obtain pandemic-era government aid and are continuing to deal with the city’s slow permitting process and the region’s high cost of living.
Berryessa resident Tam Phan said she’s happy that the new Đại-Thành location opened near her home. She said she occasionally visited the downtown Đại-Thành when it was operating, but always struggled with finding parking. More locations mean better options and prices, she added.
“There’s a lot of products here,” Phan, 67, told San José Spotlight in Vietnamese. “Ever since this market opened, others have also lowered their prices. There’s a sense of competition.”
Downtown resident Anthony Dionisio said Thien Thanh is the closest Asian market to where he lives. He was shopping at the 1080 S. 10th St. store on Monday afternoon, looking for a specific type of fish, pompano, that’s only available at the market.
“If this one left, I would definitely have to drive 15 minutes or 20 minutes to the nearest (Asian market) to get the stuff I wanted,” Dionisio, 27, told San José Spotlight.
Dionisio said he’s seen other markets open in San Jose, such as 99 Ranch Market at Oakridge Mall. But there should be an abundance of Asian markets scattered across San Jose, given the city’s large Asian American population, he added. Census data shows San Jose has a 37.5% Asian population and is the city with the largest population of Vietnamese residents outside of Vietnam, totaling more than 100,000 residents.
But Thien Thanh isn’t safe from closure either.
An employee at the market, who asked to remain anonymous citing privacy concerns, said Thien Thanh and other downtown businesses are struggling to keep their doors open. Thien Thanh has been in business since 1989, but has yet to recover from post-pandemic impacts. Local markets are also facing competition from bigger retailers like Walmart and Costco, the employee added.
“People are eating less now because things cost so much, and we have to increase prices because wages went up,” the employee told San José Spotlight. “People think, ‘Oh, it’s a big supermarket. You make a lot of money.’ I’m selling stuff for 99 cents, how much (do) you think I’m going to make?”
Hua-Yamada of Đại-Thành said Vietnamese markets do still exist near the downtown area, but markets now need to be smaller in order to survive and offer a variety of food products that will attract both young and older customers.
“There is definitely an opportunity for a market to grow in downtown San Jose,” Hua-Yamada said.
Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.
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