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Recognizing Familiar Faces

Diversity: The Korean Business District is finally official in Garden Grove today.


Charles Kim moved his real-estate office to Garden Grove Boulevard in 1977, the fifth Korean American business to open along a mile-long stretch in the city. Now the thoroughfare is at least 80% Korean.

Today the city's Korean American community will celebrate the installation of a new city monument, facing west, at the Brookhurst Way end of the commercial section. The monument officially names the mile-long stretch as the Korean Business District, designated so by the city.

It's the second bookend for the district. A year ago, a committee of the Korean Chamber of Commerce installed a similar monument, facing east, at the stretch's western boundary at Fern Street.

Both monuments were paid for with private funds raised by the Korean American businesses. Both say "Welcome" in Korean on the front and "Leave safely" in Korean on the back. The new one carries the city seal in front and the Korean Chamber of Commerce seal in back.

"These monuments are symbolic for us," said Euiwon Chough, chairman of the chamber's Korean Business District Committee. "It tells all of Orange County that this is a place where they can come to shop or dine at Korean businesses. But it also says that Garden Grove is a city of diversity, which benefits all ethnic groups here."

Five years ago, when Korean American business owners approached the city with the idea, the proposal foundered. Chough said some City Council members feared such a move would be giving preferential treatment to one ethnic group. But in 1999, with new members aboard, the council approved the official designation as the Korean Business District. The business leaders rejected earlier proposals from within their group that it be called Korea Town or Little Seoul.

City Manager George Tindall said the growing popularity of Little Saigon in Westminster made it easier for Garden Grove residents to accept such a designation.

The city's decision has stirred up almost no controversy.

"At first, we had grumbling from a couple of businesses in that area that were not Korean," said Mayor Bruce Broadwater, who plans to attend today's 11 a.m. ceremony. "But since that first monument went up, I haven't had a single complaint."

In the 1970s, Garden Grove Boulevard was little more than a length of closed-up storefronts and decaying buildings.

"Frankly, it was a slum," said Kim, of Sunny Realty. "But that was the appeal. Not many Koreans could afford to own their own businesses then. With prices on Garden Grove Boulevard so low, it made it easier for them to get a start."

A few of the first businesses failed. Though Kim's realty office was fifth to move in, it's the oldest business still operating. The business association now has about 350 members.

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