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Despite slow economy, Quincy’s Asian businesses continue to grow

Wan C. Wu, general manager of Kam Man Food supermarket, which has doubled in size in 10 years, said he underestimated the store’s business potential.Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

The Kam Man Food supermarket sells more than 20 varieties of rice, catering to subtle differences in palates among Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and other Asian cultures.

It is that kind of need-based variety that has helped Kam Man double in size in the 10 years since it opened in Quincy, to its current 80,000 square feet, as the city's Asian population, already the most dense in the state, continues its steady expansion.

Asian-owned businesses in Quincy will continue to expand as supermarkets, restaurants, and others open to meet the needs of the population, although the slow economy has tempered growth, Quincy city officials said.


"There is not a lot of growing of established businesses for the past year," said Betty Yau, who serves as Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch's Asian affairs liaison. "But there's a lot of interest in being more involved in the revitalization plan, and the potential of doing business in Quincy."

Yau was referring to a $1.6 billion rebuilding project that will add new retail and residential space in Quincy Center.

And South Cove Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation Center Inc., which currently operates in Boston's Chinatown and serves mostly elderly Asians, wants to build a 57,000-square-foot facility on the former Hassan Automotive property at 290 Washington St.

Quincy has the largest per-capita Asian population in the state. In 2010, about 24 percent of Quincy residents, or 22,174, were Asian, compared with 15.4 percent a decade earlier, according to the US Census Bureau.

City officials said business has taken a hit from the economic slowdown, but interest remains in opening businesses.

"The economy did not really support new business starting for the past several years, but there are still some new restaurants, one or two, or a change in management or owners," Yau said.

The Kam Man supermarket continues to expand. The market is about to open a new Korean-based section. It also sells kitchen appliances and toys, and has specialty booths selling clothing, herbal medicines, and other items. The market also has a lunch counter, fresh fish, and bakery.


"We continue to do something new, and hope we can attract more Koreans. There's no Korean store on the South Shore," said Wan C. Wu, Kam Man's general manager.

The store, which employs 80 full-time and 30 part-time workers, expects to increase its sales about 10 percent this year over last year, Wu said.

"We are serving a very diverse population — Chinese, Indian, Korean, various people. We underestimated the business [when we first opened]," he said. "The neighborhood is changing, and we have to change accordingly."

More than half of businesses in Wollaston and North Quincy are Asian-owned, according to Joe Shea, Quincy's city clerk.

"The economy is pretty flat, but it's safe to say if 10 businesses opened in the city of Quincy, six or seven of them would be Asian," he said.

Some have said the pace of Asian business growth has created some resentment, creating opposition toward new stores opening.

A charge of racism by one Asian business was thrown out in October, when the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination dismissed a complaint by a woman who said Quincy blocked her attempt to open a restaurant in the Wollaston neighborhood based on her Chinese nationality and complaints against her parents, who were investigated for illegal gambling activity in a building they owned on Hancock Street.


Michael Fang, owner of C-Mart supermarket, has run into opposition in his bid to get a permit for a site on Hayward Street from city officials, who say neighbors are against the opening of another Asian grocery store. The project is expected back before the City Council in the next few months.

Still, there's a lot of interest from business owners to help with the revitalization project in Quincy Center, and Asian businesses want to be part of that new growth, Yau said.

Asian businesses are expanding in the city center and in Wollaston, as well as in South Quincy, said Dean Rizzo, chairman of the Quincy Chamber of Commerce.

"Quincy is still an opportunity for growth for Asian business," Rizzo said. "As of now, there's not much of a need yet to continue to move south, especially where the population is concentrated in Quincy."

There were almost no Asian businesses in Wollaston and North Quincy 20 years ago. At that time, the shopping plaza at 219 Quincy Ave. housed a Bradlees department store, a Marshalls clothing store, and other small shops.

After most of those stores went out of business, the shops remained vacant until Asian businesses began to open in the plaza. Now it hosts the 400-seat China Pearl restaurant, Kam Man supermarket, and another Asian restaurant, among other shops.

"Twenty years ago, people were leaving the area, and there was a Marshalls and a police supply store. Today, there are 25 businesses there, all Asian, some Vietnamese. The amount of people going there has tripled in the past year," mostly due to the restaurant and supermarket patrons, Shea said.


On a recent Sunday, the China Pearl restaurant was packed with customers, most of them Asian, enjoying brunch.

Brian Moy, co-owner of China Pearl, said he is feeling the effects of the slow economy more keenly this year. The restaurant, one of three he co-owns and manages, held its own in sales until this year, when his Asian customer base started to cut back on eating out during the week. Weekends are still very busy, he said.

"Most businesses were hit over the past four to five years," Moy said. "We haven't started feeling it until this year."

Many Asians will go through their savings before relying on credit, and this year many more families have hit the bottom of their cash stock, Moy said.

"We come from a save first mentality," he said. "We have to save and stockpile."

Sarah Coffey can be reached at srmcoffey@ yahoo.com.