Market serves neighborhood

Sunh Fish, 1301 Broadway: Asians in the Broadway Corridor

Morgan Ong
Morgan Ong  

        Not until the late 1940s did the address “1301 Broadway” appear in a city directory. Typical for Broadway, a used auto business occupied the corner across from Edmonds baseball field, now Target. The space went vacant until Veterans Thrift Store opened in the mid-1960s, but it closed in less than a decade.  But in1986, Mekong Market, Sing’s Meat Shop, and Sunh Fish appear to have filled the void on this corner.

         Mekong Market underwent name changes over the years, first to Mekong Oriental Supermarket, and then to Hing Long Market. It sustained several fires. Today, it and Sunh Fish are to be found inside what is simply signed as “Asian Food Center.” 

           On this Broadway block, Asian food retailing goes back further than 1986. In 1966, just two doors up at No. 1313, G.T. Sakai and Co., seller of “Oriental foods” (per the Polk city directories), opened its doors. Between 1947 and 1957, this shop was located at 1111 4th Street between K and L Streets in the heart of Japantown, by then partially recovered from the war-time internment of its people.

G.T. Sakai and Co. was established by William Sakai, an army veteran from the orchards of Loomis, and several partners. Sakai and all the other Japanese businesses and residents who had returned after the war were moved out again in the 1950s, this time by government-sponsored urban renewal.  Chinatown farther north between I and J streets also was cleared of people and buildings. So, in 1957 G.T. Sakai and Co. relocated to 930 Q Street, moving in the same direction as many other displaced Asian households and businesses.  Urban renewal followed them southward and it moved yet again, this time landing at 1313 Broadway, where it operated from 1966 to 1996 (under different ownership after 1989). 

A 1987 Sacramento Bee article on ethnic markets, while listing G.T. Sakai and Co. as one of three Japanese options, noted that it boasted products from Taiwan, China, the Philippines, Indonesia, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Korea, Thailand, and Lebanon.  G.T. Sakai had established the 1300 block of Broadway as the place to come for a pan-Asian food-shopping experience.

The same 1987 article included Mekong Oriental Supermarket (not specifically mentioning Sing’s Meat and Sunh Fish, but clearly encompassing them in the discussion) among the eight Chinese stores listed.  It had been opened just the previous year, and the Bee reporter was impressed by its large size, unusual meats, and live seafood. Today its merchandise flows in from all over Asia, continuing the tradition established by G.T. Sakai and Co. just a few doors down. 

As Elaine Corn’s story on Sunh Fish indicates, patrons range from prominent Sacramento sushi chefs seeking ingredients for exquisite creations to neighborhood residents wanting a catfish or a few clams.  The neighborhoods around the shop, particularly to the southwest, northwest, and northeast, have a considerably higher share of residents who are Asian than does Sacramento County as a whole.  [See accompanying map for displays of the percentage of the population that was Asian by block group in 2000.] 

Block groups (average population about 1,000) are subdivisions of census tracts with an average population of about 4,000. On the map, census tract boundaries and numbers are in brown, while those for block groups are in peach. Seven census tracts abut the stretch of Broadway between I-5 and 99: 19, 20, and 21 north of Broadway and 22, 23, 26, and 27 south of it.  The most Asian parts of this area are block groups 3 and 4 in census tract 20 and block groups 1 and 2 in census tract 21.  Each of these block groups was about one-half Asian in 2000.  The Asian Food Market and Sunh Fish are in a great location to serve these Southside neighbors. (Incidentally, the block group that was measured at 90% Asian is at the top edge of the map; it is an area of fewer than 300 people, most of whom live in a high rise for the elderly in the redeveloped “Chinatown” area.)

Map - Percent of Persons Who Are Asian Alone

Census Tract 20, bounded by Broadway and 12th, R, and 21st streets, encompasses Sunh Fish and its parent building, Asian Food Center. Its 44% Asian population gives it the highest share of Asians than any other tract in Sacramento County, which is 11% Asian overall) in 2000.  Tract 21, to the west of Tract 20, and Tract 22, to the south of Tract 21, also had high Asian populations, 34% and 29% respectively. The largest numbers of Asians in the area were of Chinese ethnicity, followed by Japanese and Vietnamese. 

The total population of the seven census tracts along Broadway was roughly the following share Asian at each of the indicated dates:

1950 – 7% (of 34,000)

1960 – 15% (of 30,000)

1970 – 21% (of 23,000)

1980 – 20% (of 21,000)

1990 – 25% (of 23,000)

2000 – 19% (of 22,000)

By way of comparison, the Asian share of Sacramento County’s population increased from less than 4% in 1960 to over 11% in 2000. “Roughly” is an important modifier, because accurate statistics on Asians were not gathered in some decennial censuses. For instance, in 1950, the figures used are those for “other races,” meaning everyone not white and not black. In 1970, the figures are for “Asians and Pacific Islanders” together.

Still, some interpretations can be made. The increase in percentage Asian between 1950 and 1970 in the Broadway corridor reflected to a significant degree the displacement of Asians, especially Chinese and Japanese, from the West End. The peak percentage (and highest absolute number, nearly 6,000), recorded in 1990, reflected in part the influx of refugees from Southeast Asia, some of whom were provided with subsidized housing located mostly in Census Tracts 22 and 27. 

After the West End was cleared, the Broadway corridor, and especially the Southside neighborhood, became the most important Asian area in Sacramento.  This was reflected not only in Asian residential patterns, but also in the establishment of Asian—mostly Japanese and Chinese—religious, cultural, and community institutions and Asian businesses.

By the time that Southeast Asian immigrants began to arrive in Sacramento in the late 1970s, more southerly and suburban neighborhoods became the main reception areas. The single biggest Asian ethnic retail cluster—sometimes called “Little Saigon”—in the metropolitan area has shifted away from the area straddling census tracts 20 and 21 and toward Stockton Boulevard and 65th Street. The census tracts with the highest absolute numbers of Asian residents in the region are near that business section.

Even so, the part of town surrounding 13th and Broadway retains important legacies of earlier Asian inhabitance and investment, including places of worship such as Parkview Presbyterian Church at 727 T Street and the Buddhist Church of Sacramento at 2401 Riverside Blvd. Chinese family associations hold gatherings in many unmarked buildings along Broadway. Sunh Fish still has many Asian neighbors to serve, as well as the region’s more widespread consumers of sushi. 

 

Sources: The Sacramento Bee, accessed via NewsBank, and U. S. Censuses of Population and Housing.  1990 and 2000 data were obtained from the American FactFinder web site (http://factfinder.census.gov/), 1950-1980 data from paper copies .