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'Korean District' Freeway Signs to Give Shops Roadside Assistance

Caltrans will install the placards along the Garden Grove Freeway next week, a move business owners have long sought.

March 20, 2004|Kevin Pang | Times Staff Writer

They may just be green, 12-foot-by-4-foot metal signs with white letters, but for Korean business owners along Garden Grove Boulevard, their symbolism runs deep.

On Friday, city officials unveiled "Korean District" signs for the Garden Grove Freeway, answering the pleas of merchants who have long sought acknowledgment of their presence.

The signs will be installed next week by Caltrans on the freeway, eastbound between Goldenwest Street and Beach Boulevard, and westbound between Brookhurst and Euclid streets.

The district will join Little Saigon as the only two cultural enclaves to have freeway signs in Orange County.

For Euiwon Chough, president of the Korean Chamber of Commerce of Orange County, the signs have been a dream three years in the making. The area is relatively unknown outside the local Korean community, and Chough hopes passersby -- made curious by the signs -- will stop by.

"It's significant for us," Chough said. "Like any other sign, Disneyland or South Coast Plaza, it will make tourists and commuters more aware of Korean businesses."

While Los Angeles' version is bigger and better known, Orange County's Koreatown is a compact, 2-mile strip of Hyundai dealerships and tofu restaurants along Garden Grove Boulevard. The city has the highest density of Korean businesses in the county, with more than 1,000 stacked and squeezed in the area.

At Music Town, which sells Korean records and DVDs, Julie Ahn said business in the neighborhood lagged after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

But she said things are on the upswing and hopes the freeway signs will clear up confusion among visitors.

"I have to give all my friends directions. Nobody knows about our Koreatown," she said.

After Caltrans approved the signs last September, members of the Korean Chamber of Commerce collected $9,000 from local businesses to cover the cost. Korean-language newspapers and radio have publicized the signs, and area patrons say it's about time the secret got out.

"If you're driving on [the Garden Grove Freeway now], you'd pass right by it," said Lilian Park of Cypress.

The signs will help people in search of authentic Korean food, said Johnny Kim, also of Cypress. They won't have to make the trip to Los Angeles anymore.

"All the O.C. people come here," Kim said. "It's more convenient and has less traffic than L.A.'s Koreatown."

The signs may be especially well-timed for Myung Jin Lee, preparing for Monday's grand opening of her restaurant, Poong Nap Dong. She was busy wrapping dumplings, her black shirt dusty with flour.

"Garden Grove is not famous for Koreatown," Lee said. "It's a great idea, and it will be helpful."

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