Korean-Americans protest closing of grocery store

August 17, 1994|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Sun Staff Writer

Nearly 200 Korean-Americans rallied outside City Hall yesterday to support a family who has been ordered to leave its West Baltimore grocery to make room for a 250-pupil day-care center.

Protesters marched in a large circle on City Hall's cobblestone courtyard, chanted that the city was unfair, and carried signs that read, "City Tramples Small Business," "City Ignores Needs of Korean Business Community" and "No Destruction Without Solution."

Leaders of the demonstration, which was designed to gain the grocers more time to remain at the store, said it was the first time in memory that the area's Korean community has marched on City Hall. A spokesman for the Korean Society of Maryland said the rally would show the city how serious the matter is to them.

The protesters were angry because the city has obtained a court order that allows it to take possession on Friday of the G-A Food Market, a small store in the 1200 block of Druid Hill Ave. The store is owned by a Korean-American couple, Son Chan Pak and Kwi Yung Pak.

Plans call for the store to be demolished so the nearby Union Baptist Church can build a $2.5 million Head Start day care center.

The Paks don't have an alternative location yet, so they want to remain at the store.

Kenneth S. Lee, vice president of the Korean Society of Maryland, said he wants Baltimore officials to assure the family that they will not act on the court order.

"The city says it wants to negotiate," Mr. Lee said. "If the conditions are right, we will accept. If not, we're going to fight."

Last year, the church offered to buy the building for $40,000; the Paks wanted $250,000. When the church and the family could not negotiate a deal, the city stepped in.

City Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III said that an agreement with the grocers already had been reached and that there was no need for a demonstration.

Mr. Henson said he was willing to discuss the matter with the family, but did not say whether the Paks will be allowed to remain at the store. Most of the issues, he said, had been settled in an agreement that calls for the Paks to swap their property for a nearby building that the city would buy and renovate for them. He added, however, that the deal hinged on the city's ability to purchase the building and to gain zoning approval.

Meanwhile, the Paks say, the city can take the market in two days, leaving them without a store.

Mr. Henson said it was important for Union Baptist to erect a building to expand its day care center. The center had been scheduled to open this fall, but the project has been delayed over the last year by the often heated debate between the Pak family and the church's pastor, the Rev. Vernon Dobson, who could not be reached for comment.

"Sometimes I think Mr. and Mrs. Pak are more interested in wreaking retribution on Reverend Dobson than on settling this matter," Mr. Henson said.

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