Reflections of the L.A. uprising: Tom’s Market owner discusses the evolution of area stores

Tom’s Market, formerly Tom’s Liquor, overlooks the intersection of Florence and Normandie — the flash point of the L.A. uprising. The store has been a symbolic center of debate about businesses in the area.


Tom’s Market overlooks the intersection of Florence and Normandie — the flashpoint of the 1992 Los Angeles uprising.

The event had lasting effects on the South Los Angeles community that can still be seen, such as the lack of access to medical services, fresh produce and affordable housing. Many lots in the area have remained empty and undeveloped for three decades after the civil unrest.

The market, formerly Tom’s Liquor, has been a symbolic center of a debate about businesses in the area.


James Oh, the current owner of Tom’s, acknowledges the historical significance of the store and says he wants to support the local residents. “I’m here for the community,” Oh said. “What they need, I can help.”

20212 photo of Tom's Market owner James Oh greeting a customer at the store in South Los Angeles.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Although Tom’s has rebranded since the unrest, many residents in the South L.A. community still believe there is work to be done.

Community Coalition, a local organization, works to transform the landscape of South Los Angeles by converting liquor stores to businesses that help rebuild the community in a way that is responsible and respectful. The organization also hopes to attract small businesses that will generate economic and social growth.

There have been talks of restoring the empty lots over the years, but nothing has come to fruition.

April 26, 2022

Marsha Mitchell, communications director at Community Coalition, said she works to transform the local landscape to ensure liquor stores have a more positive effect on the local community.

“We can partner with owners to make their liquor stores into markets that are more positive and have the ability to get groceries in a food desert,” Mitchell said.


Part of this change involves markets offering healthier alternatives such as fruits and vegetables and accepting EBT to keep food purchases accessible.

About the Jovrnalism Reflections of the L.A. Uprising virtual reality project

Reporting: Grace Yuan Gao, Rachel Kisela, Jesse Mechanic, Myrah Sarwar, Vaishnavi Vasudevan, Halle Hazzard, Hannu Kivimaki, Lajja Mistry, Sam Schwartz, Randy Vazquez, Marta Hernani Fernandez, Charisma Madarang, Jacqueline Pinedo, Mallika Singh.

Additional thanks to Robert Hernandez, founder and professor of the USC Annenberg Jovrnalism course.