Skid Row People’s Market Makes Way for Real Food and Community Building
Historic small business Best Market re-opens its doors as Skid Row People’s Market, a first-of-its-kind grocery store in Skid Row
This past Sunday, dozens of community members and community organizations joined in celebration as Best Market re-opened its doors as Skid Row People’s Market, a small grocery store focused on real food and community building. The store recently underwent major renovations and re-branding to become the first-of-its-kind grocery store and deli creating access to fresh produce and healthy prepared foods for the Skid Row neighborhood, an extremely low-income, predominantly African-American and Latino neighborhood in Downtown Los Angeles and often referred to as a “food desert.” The store transformation was led by second-generation storeowner Danny Park, whose family has owned and operated the market as a convenience store for 24 years.
As small business owner, Danny Park is deeply involved in the life of the Skid Row neighborhood, advocating for rights to housing, food and work opportunities. His activism inspired his desire to use his family’s market for an even greater purpose. Park, who has co-managed the market with his mother May Park for the past three years, partnered with the Los Angeles Food Policy Council through the Healthy Neighborhood Market Network (HNMN) program with the goal of transitioning the business to focus on healthy food. The store underwent a full-scale transformation, temporarily closing its doors on December 31st for renovations, including new flooring, refrigeration and freezer units, interior and exterior paint, a remodeled retail counter space, deli bar, and re-branded with a new name and logo. Partners supporting the Park family on the project include LA Community Action Network, Studio 526, Urban Voices, LA Poverty Department, Stop LAPD Spying, Row Church without Walls, Eayikes, and Arts Center College of Design, who have supported in re-imagining and preparing the store for the transformation.
Skid Row People’s Market, formerly Best Market, is a historic Korean-American-owned neighborhood market that has been operating since 1997. For 24-years, the Parks have been rooted in the Skid Row community, providing basic goods and services for the neighborhood while witnessing first-hand the increasing population, gentrification, and criminalization of people who are unhoused right outside the store doors.
To this day, customers still call Mrs. Park “Momma,” a reflection of the relationship between the Park family and residents of Skid Row. Danny Park explained that her “sun-shining” spirit is the source of inspiration for the store’s new logo, a sunflower encircled by the name Skid Row People’s Market, designed by Danny.
Danny, who grew up in his family’s store, recalls the disconnect he experienced as a young adult learning from the media about “Skid Row,” considered the “homelessness capital of America.” “Skid Row is misrepresented. It’s been a personal journey of mine to figure out why this is happening and why basic needs are not being met. If you walk around Downtown LA, you’ll see plenty of resources. So, it’s not a matter of scarcity. California has the fifth largest economy in the world. There’s frustration that comes while addressing these severe inequities, and a helplessness one can feel,” said Park.
Park attended Arts Center College of Design and later went to work for Nike Innovation as a designer in Portland, Oregon. He returned to Los Angeles every month to help out at his family’s market. His experience in a multinational corporation set against his life at a family-owned community market was unsettling for Park. “Unless you have access to capital to exchange for resources, you are kind of out of luck. Access to food is a human right and all people should have access to healthy food options and clean running water where they reside," said Park.
Three years ago, Danny returned to Los Angeles to co-manage Best Market full-time with Mrs. Park. Two years later, he launched Skid Row Coffee Company, a cafe and deli with a job training program for community members designed to provide work and fresh meals for his neighbors who are without access to kitchen and pantry spaces. In October 2018, Danny joined the Healthy Neighborhood Market Network as a way to further this mission to bridge resources and community. “The Healthy Neighborhood Market Network collaborates with community to create new opportunities for access. I volunteered at the Grand-Reopening of Hank’s Mini Market in South Los Angeles” Park said, referencing another HNMN store transformation project, “and saw how everyone came together around this one store. The message that day was ‘stronger together.’ The strength of a movement is in the strength of it’s relationships. I believe that’s how we will make change and we can do it by organizing around food.”
The Skid Row community does face challenges in terms of food access and health. “Lack of access to adequate food storage and cooking facilities are major barriers to healthy eating for people experiencing homelessness. Supporting the leadership of storeowners like Danny and transforming neighborhood corner stores into healthy food markets with fresh produce and packaged foods is an important way to address food insecurity,” said Alba Velasquez, HNMN Program Director at the Los Angeles Food Policy Council
The Grand Re-Opening community event featured a walking meditation, recognitions of market staff and community members, drum performances, and lunch provided by Skid Row People’s Market and community members to highlight the food that will be available. Organizations present included Skid Row Coffee Company, LA Food Policy Council, LA CAN, and Chamsori.
“Skid Row People’s Market is paving the way for other stores in the area to step up to the plate," said Linda Leigh, activist and member of LA CAN's Skid Row Food and Wellness Collaborative. "The community has been engaged in this transformation process and worked together to reimagine the store as safe, healthy gathering space. We will continue to strive for and support spaces like Skid Row People’s Market. In order for people to lead healthier lives, there needs to be healthy options.”