The Korean population in Howard County is abuzz with the news that a large Korean grocery store will take the place of the old Super Fresh supermarket at the Golden Triangle Shopping Center in Ellicott City.
Lotte Plaza will be the biggest Korean grocery in a town that is becoming well known as a hub for affluent and well-educated Korean families in the Baltimore area. Covering about 37,000 square feet -- including a food court -- it will offer such Asian staples as seaweeds, pickled radish and sticky white rice.
"There has been a lot of talk about that," said the Rev. Leo Rhee, youth pastor at Bethel Korean Presbyterian Church, which has more than a thousand members.
"It's getting pretty crowded," he said, reading off a litany of Korean markets and stores -- many of them on U.S. 40 -- that have come to Ellicott City since he moved here five years ago.
Lotte Plaza, owned by Hana Ellicott Oriental Supermarket Inc., will open in April, said David Borinsky, a lawyer for the corporation. The store will carry not only Korean food, but Chinese, Japanese, Southeast Asian and other ethnic foods. It will sell whole fish -- the way many Koreans like them -- and pig's feet, a Chinese delicacy.
Borinsky said affiliates operate under the same name in Rockville and Fairfax, Va.
"It's certainly a focal point of the Korean community, an important part of the emerging second generation," he said.
Koreans in the Ellicott City area say cooking plays a special role in the lives of first- and second-generation Korean immigrants, who have been coming to the area in increasing numbers in the past three decades.
"Everyone's a good cook," said Rhee.
Yeon Jean Hugh, a Korean woman who has lived in Ellicott City for 30 years, said it is not unusual for Koreans to go to market several times a week, rather than once as many other Americans do.
Hugh said she and her husband now drive to the Rockville Lotte whenever they have major shopping. She said she looks forward to a five-minute drive instead of a 40-minute trip. "We've needed one near here," she said.
At least one Ellicott City businessman is not happy about the new market. Sang Ho Lee, owner of Coco Food Market on Route 40, worries about the future of his small shop, dwarfed by neighbors such as Wendy's, Jiffy Lube and Subway.
"I might lose some customers," he said, adding that he will make changes to compete with the new market.
Lee said he plans to sell takeout sushi, steamed crabs and shrimp, and to add a fresh fish section.
His market is already a type of cultural hub; at the front of the store a bulletin board overflows with advertisements, in Korean and English, for violin lessons, English lessons, restaurants and even free medical exams.
The Lotte Market is the latest testament to Ellicott City's growing Korean population.
In 1990, when the last census was taken, a little more than 1 percent of Howard County's population was Korean -- 2,369 residents of the total 187,000 -- said Roselle George, a research planner at the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning.
George said she does not have more recent statistics, but the population has grown since then. Celeste Carr, who is in charge of the English for Speakers of Other Languages program in Howard County schools, said she has about 300 Korean speakers enrolled in the program compared with fewer than 140 five years ago. (There are many more Koreans in the school system who are fluent in English).
Although the school system does not keep statistics on Korean students, spokeswoman Ruby Clement said the growing number of Asian students in the schools is largely because of the increase in Korean families in the county. In 1984, 823 Korean students were in the school system -- 3.4 percent. Now there are 3,440 -- 8.2 percent.
"Day by day, noticeably, many Koreans come to the Ellicott City area," said Insook Shin, who attends Bethel Korean Presbyterian Church. "Mainly they come because of the education."
The population growth is reflected in the Korean stores and restaurants along U.S. 40, in such businesses as an all-Korean video store and Tae Kwon Do center -- as well as several Korean restaurants -- at the Bethany 40 Shopping Center, and in the more than 10 Korean churches in Ellicott City and other parts of the county.
"The churches are booming," said Rhee, who added that he has seen population spurts like this before in other cities, including Chicago.
"This is still a growing Korean community," he said. "There are people who have lived here 20-plus years, and there are people who just got off the boat last week. It's almost as if there are two different cultures."
Rhee said the Koreans in Ellicott City seem to assimilate more than Koreans he has witnessed in other cities, where they have transformed entire neighborhoods into ethnic sections. As the population grows here, he said, he has noticed some problems -- including racial clashes -- beginning to emerge.
"After living here five years, I find a high degree of racism in Maryland relatively speaking compared to other parts of the nation," he said. "There are things I'm dealing with now that I haven't dealt with in 10 years."
On a regular basis, he said, strangers call him derogatory names and tell him to go back to his native country. He worries that these cultural clashes will get worse as the population continues to grow.
"I'm a little concerned that if there is too much of an Asian immigration, there will be some negative feedback," he said.
But Hugh said the new market may bring Koreans and non-Koreans together, just as other large Korean markets do elsewhere.
"In the Rockville market, it's not only Korean people," she said. "It's everybody. As long as they understand English, they won't have a problem here."
Pub Date: 3/15/99