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Replacing Stores Has Lifted Spirits

April 21, 2002|KAREN ROBINSON-JACOBS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As with Hogar's, the demise of the liquor store was used to expand an existing business, a smallish coin-operated laundry .

"There's not so much hanging out now," said T.C., who declined to give his full name. "Every now and again, but it's unusual. It's nothing like it was before."

Los Angeles police reports show only one reported crime in that block this year, compared with 14 in the same period in 1992.

Isabella Ko, whose husband, David, took over operation of the laundry after the unrest, said the money coming in from the business is "not a lot, is not so good." But running a self-serve operation gives her more time to care for her children, she said.

For Jin Hyuk Chang, business now is about double what it was when his Western Square Liquor at Slauson and Western avenues was torched. But that's at least in part because he moved.

Chang, president of the Korean American L.A. Riot Victims' Assn., wanted to reopen at his old location. But community opposition and city-imposed operating conditions pushed him out of South-Central L.A. He now operates Big Mac Liquors in Silver Lake.

"I thought that [original] store had potential," Chang said. "I really thought I could build up the business."

The city Planning Commission wanted Chang to cut five hours from his workday and bring in a security guard.

"Legally, they let me open the store, but economically no, I cannot," Chang said. "That's why I have to go somewhere else. I don't have no choice."

But he says business in his new site is better than it was in South-Central L.A. The store is one-third larger than the previous one and takes in twice the daily gross.

Half a dozen members of the association, formed by store owners uprooted by the riots, have returned to South-Central L.A. and still sell alcohol, Chang said. "They are surviving, hanging on."

With a hint of resignation he added, "I'm better off here."

And Johnny Chu, owner of Johnny's Clothing in the 8800 block of South Western Avenue, hopes he will be better off now that a full-service supermarket, Superior Super Warehouse, has opened across the street, replacing a small store that activists said relied heavily on liquor sales.

Superior is one of only 12 full-service supermarkets to open in South-Central L.A. and the surrounding low-income areas from 1992 to 2002, according to a draft study by the Occidental College Urban & Environmental Policy Institute. But 10 stores have closed, so the net gain is two, said Amanda Shaffer, the study's author.

With more than 160 full-time employees, Superior is one of the largest employers to take over a burned-out liquor site. Beer, wine and alcohol account for make up less than 3% of sales, the firm said.

Chu and Superior shoppers say the grocer has been a shot in the arm for the ailing area. Chu said the store has yet to send spillover traffic into his store, but he remains hopeful.

"Before, a lot of stores were not open," said Chu, whose original clothing store at Vermont and Manchester Avenue burned down during the riots. "Now this is open. More traffic. ... I think South-Central is building now."

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