Born and raised in Portland, Michael Liu has seen firsthand the growth and change that has come to the area around Southeast 82nd and Division. He and his family, parents Richard and Lenna and sisters Jenny and Debbie, own and operate the Fubonn Supermarket at 82nd and Woodward, as well as their wholesale distribution company in Northwest Portland, Jinthay Trading Corporation.
On starting the business in the neighborhood…
My parents emigrated over here in ’77, and in ’82 my father and mother started a food distribution company that specializes in Asian dried goods and frozen products, supplying restaurants and markets in the Portland metropolitan area. Around 2000 or so, we saw the need for a bigger community-centered and commercial development. In Portland, everything is very community-oriented but a lot of the stores are spread out, so you can take a whole day trying to get all your shopping done. So, we wanted to find an area where we could bring everything under one roof.
We kept coming back to this area, because it was in the center of our target demographic. It was the site of the old Portland Community College Southeast campus, but it was already pending sale to Goodwill, so we started to look elsewhere. When we heard their deal fell through, however, we got together with a group of investors in 2004, and by 2005 we were open for business.
On first impressions of the neighborhood…
Well, we know it was a part of the evolution of Asian businesses that started out on Sandy Boulevard, around 34th, then looped out to 82nd and then south from there. Just through time, being Oregonians, understanding the landscape through our food distribution company, we had been charting these trends. We saw a lot of opportunity in the area, because our target market were here – predominantly Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai – and we really wanted to be centrally located among those groups.
Since starting out, though, we’ve expanded our selections to include Korean, Japanese and Philipino as well as Hispanic and Russian and all the other cultural pockets that are in the area to make it a more multicultural center and shopping complex.
On what you’d like to see change…
Well I think we’re starting to see that change already. Before, there was just a lot of used car-lots and a lot of other suspect activities going on up and down the street, but as people start developing their pieces of land and start thinking business-first, it starts to deter that activity that was happening here previously.
As communities develop, I think we’ll see a lot of the negative aspects to the area be resolved. So, those perceptions from a lot of people, that 82nd is just a lot of car-lots and prostitution and drugs, is not really holding true as businesses have developed around here. Now, the first thing a lot of people think about this neighborhood is the food, and all the various cuisines you can get up and down 82nd.
A lot of development from multicultural entrepreneurs out on 82nd is finally starting to get a little ahead of the development taking place in the inner east side, but it’s all part of a wave that’s pushing out eastwards. And it’s not going to stop at 82nd – in a few years it will be 122nd. You know, I went to college, and the Pearl was just warehouses. I came back and it’s one of the thriving areas of the metropolitan area.
As the various government groups work to make this area more walkable, addressing the basic necessities – putting in sidewalks were there are none – I also hope that there is a balance between changing the neighborhood and maintaining the ability for businesses to continue thriving.
On what role Fubonn can play in changing the area…
Our goal is to be a destination shopping location for the Portland metropolitan area. Hopefully, we can start to draw people from west of the river and Vancouver, so they can come to this area and experience all that the neighborhood can offer. With all of the different shops and restaurants around here, there’s a lot to do in the area – you can easily fill up a day in the neighborhood, between bakeries, restaurants and other niche businesses.
With our retail units in Fubonn, our goal is to find qualified people who want to be a part of the mall. If people have the right business plan and experience, we’re open to giving them the opportunity to start out in some of our smaller spaces, and then hopefully they can grow from there. PCC has been doing a lot of great things with the community, assisting people with understanding a lot of the nuances of starting and running their own business. The Jade District and 82nd Avenue of Roses, they have all the pieces in place to groom the entrepreneurial spirit of people in the neighborhood, which is needed, because a lot people just don’t know where to start.
On what multiculturalism means for this neighborhood…
I think it’s an educational platform for people in the neighborhood, to learn from all the different groups – whether through food, cultural events, or outreach. Instead of seeing something as different, see it as an opportunity to learn something, to expand your understanding. In any case, the more you learn, the more similarities you start to see in everyone.
So, just embracing diversity as something that makes us strong, as something that has real value, I think would enrich the neighborhood.
On the power of collaboration…
I’m the one talking to you, but my parents started this business back in ’82, and they and my sisters and I all work together to make this businesses what it is. One person can’t do what was accomplished here – it takes people to buy in, having vision and working together. At the end of the day, that’s what I hope to see happen in the neighborhood on a grander scale. They have to buy in, they have to work together, have open lines of communication.
Read other stories from the 82nd and Division neighborhood