Jae Yul Kim, 50, is the president of the Korean American Grocers' Victims Assn., a group of business owners who lost their South-Central stores in the 1992 riots. Of the 174 store owners in the group, only six have reopened their businesses. Most have been unable to reopen because of reluctant landlords, lack of finances or city restrictions, Kim says. Kim, who emigrated to the United States from South Korea 20 years ago, has been in the retail business for 17 years. He purchased the J and Y Liquor Mart at 4355 S. Arlington Ave. four years ago and wants to rebuild because he does not believe he can find a buyer for the property. He says he cannot agree to the conditions the city has placed on the reopening of the store, including hiring a security guard and prohibiting the sale of single cans of soda or beer. He and his wife have been surviving financially with the help of their son and federal emergency aid that is to expire shortly. They live in Encino and have three grown children. Kim was interviewed by Karen E. Klein.
I closed early the day of the riots and took my wife home. I came back about 6 in the evening and they had already broken in the door and they were stealing everything.
The next day, about 10 o'clock in the morning, I came back and they were still looting out of my store. I saw a policeman and asked him, "What can I do?"
He said, "Do you have insurance?"
I said yes and he said, "There's nothing I can do."
Two days later, they burned my store to the ground.
For 15 months, FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) has helped me. But my grant runs out next month. I don't know how I'm going to keep my house. I'm not sure I can make my payments.
I want to try and rebuild the store, but the city has put many conditions on me.
It's only a small store, and I can't accept that many conditions. For instance, if I can't sell single cans, how can I make money?
I feel like I don't want to go back there. I'm still scared. I was robbed twice at gunpoint before the riots. Once a robber fired at me and hit the bulletproof glass in the front of my cash register.
The Community Coalition (for Substance Abuse Prevention, a South-Central-based organization opposed to the proliferation of liquor stores in the area) doesn't want us to come back. They don't want liquor stores.
But I'm a good guy, I'm a nice guy. I always tried to do right by my customers. Only one guy got mad at me once. He asked me to give him credit. But I never give credit, so I just said no. He got so mad, he said, "I'm gonna burn down your store." But I don't know who really did it.
I understand what the Community Coalition says. I know they don't want liquor stores. But when I bought that store, I didn't ask how many other liquor stores were around my store. I got my license, so I didn't care about the other stores. What could I do about them?
I came to America 20 years ago and I have worked hard. That land is mine. When I first got that land, I was so happy. Now, am I supposed to throw that land away and go someplace else? Maybe I won't be able to make money someplace else. The economy is so bad now it's hard to open a business anywhere else. I have a loan from the Small Business Administration. If I relocate, I will have to pay rent and pay back the SBA loan. I can't do that.
Now, I wonder what to do. I talked to a contractor today, but I'm not sure what to do. If I go back in, what will the Community Coalition do to me? I'm scared.
If they do give me another chance, I will go back and help the community. I want to do that.