Workers were stocking the shelves inside Lakewood’s new HMart Asian supermarket Thursday morning even as a few dozen dignitaries, wearing rose corsages and boutonnieres, gathered for the welcoming ceremony.
Young drummers from the Morningstar Korean Cultural Center began the festivities, and speeches followed, in English and Korean.
HMart is the largest international supermarket chain in the United States. The Lakewood store, at 43,000 square feet and located at 8720 South Tacoma Way, is the third Asian supermarket in this part of town.
The name stands for “Han Ah Reum,” or “one arm full.”
In this context, it means one arm full of groceries.
“Welcome to Lakewood,” said Mayor Don Anderson.
Welcome, he said, “to a dynamic and growing international district.”
Korean Consul Chan-Shik Yoon mentioned the first anniversary of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, which was one day away.
Greeters in the doorway offered deep bows to shoppers who arrived before the scheduled opening. In they came.
By noon there was no space left to park either cart or car. The lot outside, and adjoining lots, were full. Drivers circled, searching. Inside the store, shoppers leaning on overflowing carts filled the checkout lanes and spilled into the aisles which were themselves crowded with other shoppers still making their selections.
Meanwhile, dignitaries sipped pink champagne and sampled various Korean delicacies at a reception in a room at the end of a long line of tall, congratulatory floral arrangements.
So went the opening of the 51st HMart nationwide and the third in Washington.
Dave Bugher, Lakewood assistant city manager for development, said after the ceremony that HMart adds its presence “to a substantial number of businesses along South Tacoma Way representing a combination of various Asian cultures and the Hispanic community.”
Of some 3,800 business licenses active in Lakewood, he said, one-third have been issued to Korean or other Asian proprietors.
“I think people would be surprised to learn that over 50 percent of the people at the permit counter are Hispanic or Asian,” he said.
As competition for supermarket business, HMart joins Boo Han Market and Pal-Do World. And Boo Han is looking to grow by perhaps fivefold, to 100,000 square feet, Bugher said.
“There is a continued desire to expand,” he said. “The City of Lakewood is ecstatic that HMart has chosen to open at this location.”
Champagne corks popped, flying over the icing filigrees of a three-tier cake.
“Especially in what’s been a soft economy, it’s a major step when a successful company chooses to locate here,” said Mayor Anderson. “This is now a destination.”
“It’s a real nice store,” said shopper Suk Shelley of Lakewood. “HMart has a good reputation for good quality. I’m happy to have it here.”
“It’s 100 percent Korean,” said friend Kucha Johnson.
“I’m here shopping with the wife,” said Coast Guard veteran Jim Brown, standing near a wall at the exit of the checkout lanes. “It’s beautiful. It’s nice and modern, and clean.”
And well-stocked. Need 50 pounds of rice? Some frozen turnip buns? A dried persimmon, a bottle of carbonated lychee juice, some flying fish roe, a fresh red snapper, a carp, a bag of frozen baby clams, some seaweed, some dried squid slices?
There’s an entire aisle, perhaps 100 feet long, with shelves on both sides stacked high with various brands, grades and flavors of ramen.
It’s all there, unless those shoppers — with both arms full — have already bought everything.
C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535