Nestled in the heart of Westminster, the Asian Garden Mall has long been a beacon for the Little Saigon community, but like so many other places, it had to close its doors with the outbreak of the coronavirus.
In recent weeks, shop owners and vendors have adapted with an outdoor flea market – satisfying the needs of loyal customers but also hopefully saving their businesses.
The mall, also known as Phước Lộc Thọ, is the largest Vietnamese shopping center in the United States. The once busy and bustling stalls inside have gone quiet ever since Gov. Gavin Newsom’s mandate closing indoor malls.
Now the parking lot on the left side of the mall is lined with booths and tents and people walking through looking for their favorite stores.
One might miss the slightly hidden outdoor setup if it weren’t for the traditional Vietnamese music playing from multiple speakers, along with an alluring sugarcane juice truck parked in front. Up and down the rows are booths selling food, toys, clothes, jewelry, skincare products and even a haircut station.
Sisters Nguyệt and Nancy Dong, who work at the Moon Fashion booth, say they’ve had a good number of customers stopping by, especially to look at the traditional áo dài dresses and garments. Nguyệt Dong also works at the Anaheim White House restaurant, so the pop-up booth is just another way she is able to earn some money.
While they have gotten some business out of the outdoor market, others vendors have struggled.
Lou Truong, a seller at My Ngoc jewelry, said business has been very slow and the bills are mounting.
“Even though they close, we still have to pay rent, there’s no discount, no nothing,” he said. “So far we do what we can to survive. It sucks.”
Still, Truong sets up his booth every morning before 10 a.m. and stays out there until 6 p.m., when everything has to be taken down, because he said he would rather be outside and socializing with others, than home all day long and do nothing.
Sharing that same sentiment, Phillip Nguyen, a customer, said he brought his mom and sister so that they could get out of the house and shop around to see what the new outdoor market offered.
“It’s too bad not many people open because everything here is not really essential, so people buy only luxury, but did not really need (it),” Nguyen said.
Nguyen said he was a little disappointed there weren’t as many shops set up outside, and he certainly misses the food court inside that take up much of the mall’s first floor. But he also doesn’t think it is a safe and viable option at this time.
Tommy Truong said he and the staff of Retro Saigon Xưa have had to adapt the restaurant in several ways. Along with opening one of the handful of food booths outside, he recently set up social media pages and is preparing food for delivery, which is a lot different from the restaurant’s traditional sit-down style and service because the quality and experience is not the same, he said.
Typically in the summer, the parking lot of the mall would feature its very popular night market filled with food, fun, singing and dancing, but that is not happening this year because of the pandemic.
The hope, expressed by store owners and shoppers alike, is the mall will be able to open next year in time for the Tết celebration in honor of the Lunar New Year, as Bolsa Avenue and the mall are at the heart of Little Saigon’s annual celebrations.
Source: Orange County Register