Ken Yu runs Wing Ming Herbs, a business founded by his mother, which not only sells a variety of medicinal herbs but has also developed a mixed-use courtyard shopping center near the corner of 82nd and Division. Yu, whose family comes from Guangzhou, China, has seen a lot of dramatic change in the 82nd and Division area since 1986.
On relocating to 82nd and Division...
Wing Ming Herbs was started by my mother in 1996. We were at Foster and 84th until 1998. We were looking to expand, because more and more Chinese people were living close to Powell and Division.
We found a piece of land on 82nd Avenue right next to the old PCC Southeast Center. It was a narrow, deep parcel, and a lot of people thought it was an unbuildable lot. We built a long skinny building, two stories, with residential above and commercial space below, and we moved to the first unit.
Pretty soon we knew it was too small. The business was growing rapidly. More and more Asian customers were coming and also more and more Caucasian customers discovering Chinese herbal supplements.
We happened to look just to the north of our old property. It was a really run down set of old houses, and it wasn't up for sale. But we worked with a realtor and were surprised to find that the landowner was ready to sell. We worked with US Bank which said if we'd come up with the money to purchase the lot they'd finance to get the building built. We turned to our relatives to get enough funds together to purchase the land and then built our building. We opened in December 2003.
On the unique courtyard design of WM Plaza...
We built a courtyard style development with businesses in front, residential behind and a parking lot in the middle. We could have built a strip mall but then the street exposure would be narrow. And also we were interested in keeping some of the residential houses.
We didn't have enough capital to demolish them all. But also in our culture, people always liked to live close to the business. On our first building on 82nd, that's why we built residential on top, because my parents wanted to live upstairs. We feel that like other Asian people want to live close to commercial shopping and working areas.
They're good residential units. They're never vacant. Some people move out and others come in quickly. A lot of people looking come in and ask if we have units available. Many are new immigrants and don't know how to drive and want to live close to transit. Some of them actually work at the restaurant in our complex. They just come out of their house and walk across the parking lot to work. It's been really nice for them. Others work at restaurants and businesses nearby.
By having a commercial building in front, screening the traffic noise, it helped the residential area as well, made a nice living condition.
On early impressions of the neighborhood...
When we first moved to this neighborhood, it was really run down. The skinny lot we bought was vacant, with wild blackberry growing on it. We dumped out a few loads of abandoned mattresses and tires and even half of a car.
But after we moved here the Asian population grew in the whole Portland metro area. Fubonn opened a few years after us here in the old PCC Southeast Center after PCC moved to where the Albertson's used to be (at the corner of 82nd and Division).
Fubonn draws a lot of Asian business here and it helps us too, because we're not a grocer, we focus on herbals. People go to Fubonn to buy groceries and come over here to check out any herbal stuff they need.
On how the neighborhood is changing...
We are seeing more and more Asians here. Lately we're seeing something we didn't see before – a lot of foreign visitors, especially Chinese. Many are students or tourists.
One of the things we sell is American ginseng. And that's a really hot item as a gift when they come back home, genuine ginseng from the US. It's highly advertised over there, because there's less pollution. We purchase three to five thousand pounds every year from a Wisconsin farm. Most of it we sell to visitors from China or people that live here or bring it back to China as a gift.
I like the Jade District. They do a lot of good things. They help promote the businesses. And they ran the Night Market last year, which was really successful. It was good for our business, because people who went to the night market also spent time here and looked around.
When you have that kind of business it will also draw people to move to Oregon from other states. If they can come here and buy the food they used to eat, or live in the neighborhood they like it can have a lot of influence. I personally have friends from New York or California, moving here because the cost of living is a lot lower and the environment is a lot nicer.
On the changes he'd like to see...
If you go down Division and Hawthorne in the 20s through the 50s, I think it's really good street development. There are a lot of sidewalk cafes and residential units above. I think it's a really good business community there. I'd like to see that happen on 82nd. But it would be tough because there's a lot of fast traffic.
I've thought that street parking would be nice because it blocks some of the traffic noise and people might feel a lot safer walking next to parked cars than to fast traffic. I have a six-year-old and sometimes he goes for bike rides around the neighborhood. I’m really scared about that. But I don't know how to make it safer, because there's no way to expand the street and making it one lane each way would be a real traffic jam.
Security is also a concern. We have a gate, I didn't want to do that, but we had to because a few years ago we had a lot of tenants' cars broken into at night. We even hired a security guard but we can't afford to have them here 24 hours a day. We have them a few hours a night. We put the gate in and it seems like it's helped somewhat. But still, we have a camera, and I see people jump over the gate. You have that problem no matter where you are.
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