A Washington suburb is changing the way the community shops for food
By Geeta Goindi
Herndon, Virginia, December 26, 2018 – A fast-growing suburb of Washington got an economic boost this weekend with leading Asian supermarket chain H Mart opening its seventh store in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Known for its modern ‘one-stop-shopping’ experience, H Mart offers many Indian and Asian foods catering to an international palette in America.
Located at 1228 Elden Street, the main road that runs through the Town of Herndon, the new store occupies over 54,000 square feet of prime retail space vacated by Giant Food in November after it relocated to Centreville Road. It is situated within the Elden St. Marketplace, a shopping center lined by small businesses. The opening of H Mart, the country’s largest Asian grocer, gives the center a much-needed boost and revitalization.
At the inaugural, ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday morning, Virginia Delegate Jennifer Boysko (Democrat – District 86) enthused, “It is so exciting to be here for the opening of the H Mart. I actually live down the street, around the corner and this has been my home grocery for more than 20 years”, she said about the space.
The state lawmaker told the gathering, “I represent the community in the Virginia House of Delegates and it is a diverse and well-educated and wonderful group of people who live here. And we are all going to benefit from having H Mart right here at the center of the 86th District”.
Hailing the store’s opening as a key to promoting economic development, Boysko who is running for the state senate seat vacated by Congresswoman-elect Jennifer Wexton, affirmed, “It is just going to make the community better”.
And the market more competitive! A couple of blocks from the new H Mart is Fresh World, and a mile east on Elden Street is the Lotte Plaza Market – both Asian grocery stores patronized by Indian-Americans among other minority communities.
We asked Boysko, ‘Do you see a demand for so many Asian grocery stores in Herndon’? She replied, “We see a demand for good, high-quality food and I think H Mart is well known for being a high-quality grocery store. That is what people want”.
When queried about a marked change in demographics, she was quick to point out, “The Town of Herndon is definitely a minority-majority town. You can just see at the grocery store or a pharmacy, there are people from everywhere here. It’s just wonderful. We love it”, she said.
What was once a small, sleepy town, Herndon has seen a dramatic transformation. According to the American Community Survey 2018 of the US Census Bureau, Asians account for 17.1 percent of the population in Herndon. A number of studies list India as the most common country of origin for foreign-born residents of the town.
“One thing I love is that it has become more and more diverse”, Boysko said about the demographic shift in Herndon. “We have got to know people from all corners of the world, with different backgrounds, different cultural histories. It is almost like a mini United Nations here in this area. We have a huge South Asian population, a very strong Muslim population, a strong east Asian population, a strong Latino population. It’s really wonderful”.
Brian Kwon, President of H Mart, was unperturbed about the competition. “Wherever we go, there is always some competition”, he told us matter-of-factly.
The New Jersey-based, Korean-American business owner refuted that there is a larger concentration of Asian grocery stores in Herndon compared to other parts of the country. “It is not more than other places. This is regular for us”, he said.
Regarding the factors influencing the location of a store, Kwon mentioned, “It is a combination of customer demand and the available space. It is difficult to find a grocery store that is going out of business or a space that is newly renovated”. He added, “We have a lot of customers asking us to come to certain locations. That is how we decide where to open a store”.
H Mart which is operated by the New Jersey-based Hanahreum Group boasts over 60 stores in twelve US states: Maryland; Virginia; Illinois; Georgia; Massachusetts; Michigan; North Carolina; New Jersey; New York; Pennsylvania; Texas; and California. Here, in Virginia, customers can shop at H Mart supermarkets in Falls Church, Fairfax, Annandale, Burke, Centreville, Manassas, and now Herndon.
Recognized as one of the fastest-growing retailers in America, H Mart is number 13 on the National Retail Federation’s ‘Hot 100 Retailers’ list, and Supermarket News has listed it among the Top 50 Small Chains and Independents in the US and Canada. There are some 13 stores in Canada and 5 in the United Kingdom.
The grand opening in Herndon saw a good number of customers braving the blustery cold to shop at the popular supermarket. Many were rewarded with giveaways including special gifts for Smart Card members.
Wishing “prosperity, success and good fortune” to the H Mart team, Herndon Council member Richard Kaufman warmly welcomed “the new business and the people who created and sustained this business, and the people who will patronize this business which is all of our community. The town is richer for your business, for your services, and for your dedication to our community in the Town of Herndon”, he said.
Puneet Ahluwalia, executive director of South Asia Minorities Alliance Foundation, noted, “This is a success of the Asian-American community melting into the great Town of Herndon”.
We asked Kwon, ‘What will attract Indian-Americans to your store?’ He replied, “Our job is to cater to the neighborhood. There is a large Indian-American population in the area, so we have dedicated some four aisles to just Indian products. We want to make sure that everyone in the area has what they need in this store. I think they will be satisfied with the selection here. If anything is missing, just let me know”, he said with a smile.