Thursday, June 2, 2011

The demise of the Korean deli

A friend posted on Facebook this article on the demise of Korean grocers in New York City, noting that it seemed both not a bad thing, but also a bit sad.

I know what she means. Not a bad thing in that running a mom-and-pop store is not just a job, but a livelihood that involves entire families. I think the only time that my aunts and uncles closed their stores might have been for funerals in the family. When I was planning my wedding, my mother reminded me that it ought not interfere with store hours.

Like the people interviewed in the article, I think my aunts and uncles regarded their stores as the best opportunities available to them here in the United States, but they hoped for still better opportunities for their children.

So, it seems sad that - at least according to the NYT - the wane of the Korean grocery store is a result (and a sign) of "the same forces that threaten all sorts of mom-and-pop businesses: rising rents, increased competition from online and corporate rivals, and more scrutiny from city agencies that impose fines."

For me, this is not just about the closing of Korean grocery stores, but also the narrowing of possibilities.

B/c while my aunts and uncles did not necessarily aspire to running a store, I think they will agree that it indeed enabled them not only to make a living, but to make lives for themselves and their children. It permitted them a degree of independence: I think it makes a difference that when they interacted with other (non-Korean) Americans, they were store owners and managers interacting with customers, not employees or laborers interacting with employers or bosses.

I disagree with the blogger at New York Press: Korean Grocers Move on to Bigger and Better Things. I appreciated that the NYT offered a bit more nuance in its account than that.

Bigger-and-better seems to be the story that we all want to believe: The American dream. Especially in a place like New York City, which specializes in cheering for the underdog. We do not want the story to be that Korean mom-and-pop stores are closing b/c small business no longer presents the possibilities that it apparently did for earlier generations. We do not want the story to be that the underdog will not win.

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