Chinese Market’s Profits Boom From Gentrification

Article and photos by Teddy Jiang

Weiling Jiang opened Chang Xin Food Market in Fresh Meadows, Queens, in 1985, a time when he didn’t have any business skills and was settling into his new surroundings, having moved to the United States from China.

“I opened Chang Xin Food Market over 30 years ago as a small local Chinese market that sells primarily Asian groceries,” Jiang, 55, said. “It was a lot smaller back then, and we only catered to people I know, which were mainly Chinese.”

Operating a food market in New York isn’t an easy task. According to the Strategic Resource Group, a retail and consumer goods consulting firm, between 2005 and 2015 the city lost about 300 stores, 8 percent of its family-owned grocery stores. A third of them were in Manhattan.

“We were afraid that the store would closed, and we will be out of jobs,” said Adrien Lopez, an employee at Chang Xin Food Market. “I would have difficulties finding any other jobs.”

As gentrification came to Fresh Meadows, Chang Xin Food Market’s net income increased by more than 20%.

But, to stay afloat, Chang Xin has adapted his business to the changing demographic in Fresh Meadows. The Chinese population residing in the Fresh Meadows/Union Turnpike neighborhood has dropped from 3,674 in 2011 to 3,459 in 2016 according to the 2016 Census Bureau, with the Latino community growing 5%, from 1,166 in 2015 to 1,224 in 2016.  With this shift in population,  Chang Xin modified its selection of foods and has thrived with new customers.

Jiang began to introduce mainstream Western products such as Kellogg’s, Heinz, Quaker Oats, Campbell’s Soups and frozen foods. With this change, Chang Xin Food Market’s net income increased by more than 20%. Since 2008, the business earned a total revenue of $60,000 per month.

“This is my favorite place to shop,” said Emily Adell, 32, a local resident whose kosher diet requirements are now met by Chang Xin Food Market. “I usually shop for fresh fish and produce.”

Yet some customers are critical of Chang Xin’s response to gentrification. Lin Xin, a Chinese resident, said that the supermarket is becoming less recognizable each year.

“There has been less and less traditional Chinese groceries than ever before,” he complained. “Things that I want to buy isn’t there anymore.”

Yet, to Chang Xin Food Market’s ownership, the gentrification effect on the business has been wholly positive.

“I believe that Chang Xin Food Market will continue to do great in the future,” Weiling Jiang said. “We’ll continue to adapt to changes that’re going on in the neighborhood and hope to benefit from it.”