Have you ever tried to find a parking space at the El Mercado Shopping Center around noon on a Saturday or Sunday? The parking lot and neighboring stores are packed with shoppers picking out the freshest fish and families feasting on dumplings and thick udon noodles.
The name, “El Mercado,” is a relic from Union City’s Mexican-American heyday, and the sign now looks like an oxymoron underneath the Daiso and signs.
"El Mercado" is Spanish for "the market," and, if anything, this little strip mall has become even more of a marketplace. It has changed and adapted to the city’s dominant population and is thriving.
According to the , our city’s population has dramatically changed from a largely Latino population over the years to predominantly Asian, and it seems like the businesses that are the most busy reflect this shift.
In the 90s, James Logan High School was sandwiched in between El Mercado and another center with a huge Mexico Super as the anchor store. After-school pit stops were hangouts like Straw Hat Pizza, Yum Yum Donuts or, on the fancier occasion, Carrow’s.
I only went to Carrow’s once with my girlfriends and it was pretty empty and slow. Now it’s a and it seems to be quite the place on Tuesday nights, where it’s all-you-can-eat for $20.99 per person.
It’s good to see that the neighborhood noodle joints and bargain markets are doing so well in our tough economy. These businesses are supplying what the customers demand — fresh Asian food and wares at competitive prices.
Not only Asians frequent these stores and restaurants. I’ve had the rice plate special during a quick lunch break with co-workers at a few of these spots, and have been able to hit up Daiso for some valuable teacher stuff in the same trip.
Even though my kids refuse to eat anything ethnic or spicy despite their colorful heritage, my husband and I love all kinds of food. We’ve even gone so far as sneaking some of the boys’ boring bland kid food in the diaper bag and bringing it to our local Vietnamese hole-in-the-wall, just so that we can enjoy some good chicken pho for ourselves.
Will this devoted crowd packing the parking lot venture over to the new Whole Foods and Sunflower Market opening next year in Fremont? Will they care if their tilapia is organic and sustainable, or will they prefer to buy it from a store where they know that they can get it at a good price and talk to the fishmonger in their own language?
Considering that Union City is so diverse, I expect that the upscale markets will appeal to some of the El Mercado regulars, just as the Asian markets appeal to those from other cultures. I predict that El Mercado will not lose its devoted customers, either, because it has a distinct community feel there that can’t be replicated elsewhere.