Mom and Pop Got a Brand New Bag

Nov 11, 2003
George Anderson

By George Anderson

Mom and Pop grocery stores may not be dying off after all. Perhaps, they’re simply changing ownership.

Just as immigrants from Europe and their descendents set up butcher shops, produce stands and small grocery stores at the beginning of the last century, today’s Mom and Pop proprietors are doing the same. This time however, many hail from Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and other parts of the globe.

It’s not unusual in major markets to find small grocery stores owned by Koreans, Chinese, Vietnamese, Cubans, Mexicans, etc. It is also becoming increasingly common to find these so-called ethnic markets popping up in places such as Urbandale, Iowa.

A piece in the Des Moines Register profiles James and Paula Wang’s Asian Market in Urbandale. The Wang’s are the owners and staff and their store is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday, with an eight o’clock closing on Sunday.

Although the market specializes in Asian foods, the Wangs say that at least half of their customers are non-Asian. Paula Wang told the Register, “I don’t think the Asians know about us just yet.

“This is a good location with quite a bit of traffic, but since it is a new area and we’re on the edge, some people don’t know about us yet. Others will drive by, see our sign, stop in to look around, then come back later to buy things.”

The Wangs are not the only game in town, either. Other ethnic food stores including the Des Moines Asian Food Store, International Groceries & More, the La Cruz Mexican Market and the Thai Grocery are operating in central Iowa.

“I would say that specialty stores are becoming more common as we see the population diversify more and more,” said Jerry Fleagle, president of the Iowa Grocery Industry Association. “A prime example would be in Storm Lake, where we are seeing Hispanic stores, as well as West Liberty, where the increase in ethnicity drives the need for what we call home products. It also creates a broader awareness of what I call the regular supermarkets to increase their selections in response to demand from the competition.”

Moderator’s Comment: What are your thoughts on the impact that mom and pop stores owned by Asians, Latinos and other ethnic minorities will have on mainstream

Will the industry be talking about the Wangs in 50 years in similar fashion to how we speak about other family grocery businesses such as Wegman’s, Schnuck’s,
Marsh and Ukrop’s today?
Anderson – Moderator

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