H Mart Sam Q. Kim

Sam Q. Kim, a director of H Mart, outlined the national Asian market chains plans for Mesa’s newly rebranded Asian District during a press conference last week.

Mesa will never be confused with Tokyo, Seoul or Shanghai, but the city hopes the addition of a “signature’’ Asian supermarket will boost an already burgeoning Asian District.

Food similar to what you might find in all of these cities will be offered in the food hall at H Mart when the New Jersey-based chain opens its first Arizona supermarket at Dobson and Main Street in February or March across from Mekong Plaza.

Billed as a statewide attraction, the H Mart and Mekong Plaza will become a gateway to the Asian District, which extends two miles south to another cluster of Asian businesses at Dobson and Southern Avenue.

Dubbed “Asian District, Mesa AZ,” it comprises more than 70 Asian-themed restaurants, grocery stores and other businesses.

 “I think we have the right timing to join the movement and the expansion. We will contribute in any way we can,’’ said Sam Q. Kim, a director of H Mart.

Kim said he liked the idea of expanding in an area already with an Asian identity and a mixture of diverse cultures and looks forward to defining it more in any way possible. 

The city also unveiled a new Asian District based on the tangram, a seven-piece Chinese geometric puzzle dating back 2,000 years. The multiple, colorful pieces of the tangram can be rearranged to create various shapes. 

“The logo features a square comprised of the tangram pieces, symbolic of different Asian cultures coming together in a unified district community while maintaining the individuality of each culture,” the city said in a release.

The City also is developing signage and artwork to be installed on Dobson Road between Main Street and Broadway Road later this year.

 A special website, AsianDistrictMesa.com, was created by the Asian Chamber of Commerce with additional information about the district as well as a business directory.

 “This is the perfect place for people to gather, eat, shop and immerse themselves in the flavors and cultures of Asia,” Mayor John Giles said.

Although H Mart began as a Korean market in New York 37 years ago, it has rebranded itself as an international market and Mesa will become the 66th location in 14 states.

“We didn’t want to duplicate what was already here,’’ Kim said. “We’re trying to bring our best effort for a new or different taste.’’

Kim said the availability of the 63,000 square foot store, along with the area’s Asian identity, made Mesa a good choice for H Mart’s first store. 

He said he also likes the proximity of Arizona State University in Tempe and it is not too far from Phoenix to attract shoppers and diners.

The Mesa H Mart is expected have six different restaurants operated by tenants. Korean, Japanese and Chinese food will be featured at the food hall, called the “Market Eatery.’’

H Mart revolves around its produce, meat and seafood departments, offering marinated Asian meats and groceries from a wide variety of Asian countries, Kim said.

He said he has nine more stores in the planning stage, including some in other parts of Arizona, which he did not disclose.

Ritta Yee Fagain, director of operations with Whyfor, a consulting agency hired by the city, said she plans to unveil some branding touches designed to make the district unique very soon.

The Asian District would join the Fiesta District, the Falcon District and the Elliot Road Technology Corridor as areas in Mesa with unique street signs and architectural features designed to help create a distinct identity.

Fagain said H Mart represents an anchor for the district, not just for the shopping center where it is located. 

“H Mart is huge. It’s got a brand, a success story,’’ Fagain said.

Former Mesa City Council member Ryan Winkle, a community activist who now works with the Asian Chamber of Commerce and other organizations, said:

“This is almost the culmination of what has been happening since 2008 with the development of Mekong Plaza. It’s almost like the topping on the cake.’’

One idea is to rename the Sycamore light rail stop, the first in Mesa when heading east, after the Asian District, Councilman Francisco Heredia said.

“We saw it as an opportunity to lift up these entrepreneurs who have settled here,’’ he said.

“It’s important for us to be involved as a city,’’ Heredia said. “I think what makes us stronger is becoming more diverse and adding different cultures and food.’’

Councilwoman Jen Duff added, “It’s really something between Main and Southern. There are many more Asian businesses than you can imagine.’’

She said the cluster of Asian businesses is “organically grown,’’ and city wants to give the effort of small businesses a boost.

 H Mart also represents the sort of redevelopment project Mesa has been hoping for since Metro Light Rail arrived a decade ago, replacing a long-gone Albertson’s supermarket.

Jaye O’Donnell, Mesa’s assistant director of economic development, said a consultant identified the cluster of Asian businesses as “something special’’ as part of a redevelopment plan.

“This is the kind of signature store a community really wants to be different,’’ she said. “It will draw visitors from around the state.’’

O’Donnell said Mayor John Giles plans to more fully describe the Asian District as part of his annual State of the City breakfast in February. 

After unveiling the plan, Mesa will need to find a funding source and the improvements might take a little while to progress.

“It will be known much more as a place to experience Asian culture and cuisine,’’ she said, with more special events, such as the celebration of Chinese New Year.

Beyond the H Mart, Mesa would like to encourage more housing and office space in the area, she said.

The H Mart previously was an Albertson’s closed long ago and later turned into a consignment store.

Dan Hinkson, president of Sigma Contracting, said the store is about the same size as a Fry’s or a Safeway. He said the store was completely gutted and the project should be finished in mid-February.

“It is absolutely amazing to see the unity behind this endeavor,” said Vic Reid, CEO of the Asian Chamber of Commerce. 

“The Asian District is a place for our community to truly take pride in – we know the work being done today will have an everlasting impact on future generations.”

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