Laura Seitz, Deseret News
SOUTH SALT LAKE — More than 100 people eagerly filed into South Salt Lake's newest business Wednesday behind a larger-than-life dancing lion and a band of drummers.
Inside the store, visitors found porcelain artwork, Asian vegetables and a tank of live elephant nose clams.
It was a sight Andrew So and his family have envisioned for the better part of a decade.
"When we moved here about eight years ago, we realized that our Asian community deserved a better shopping experience than what they had at the time. So we started a project," So said. "Fortunately, we got support from South Salt Lake. Now it's our anchor project, the largest Asian culture store in town."
The 35,000-square-foot Asian supermarket accompanies other businesses in the city's Chinatown, a multi-phase redevelopment project at 3370 S. State, developed by the So family.
Gary Knapp, vice chairman for the South Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, said the Chinatown Supermarket stands out from the other 2,000-plus businesses in the city.
"We're excited to have this. It's obviously a great new addition in the business community of South Salt Lake," Knapp said. "The real story is inside."
The first phase of the privately funded project opened in 2012 with restaurants, an Asian gift store and a Kung Fu club. Phase two of the project was completed Wednesday morning with a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the supermarket. The third and final phase has been approved to include other retail businesses on the Main Street side of the 5.7-acre lot, according to South Salt Lake community development director Mike Florence.
"For the city, it's a destination location," Florence said. "Not only for the Asian community, but for the whole valley, the whole state."
The entrance to the lot features a $300,000 decorative gate, which was intended to portray "the look of Beijing," So said.
"We spent a lot of effort on creating the modern Asian look," he said.
Karen Kwan, a Democratic candidate for Utah's House of Representatives District 34, said South Salt Lake's Chinatown satisfies practical and cultural needs for her and other Chinese-Americans in the state.
"So many of us go out of state when we need items that we can't find here," Kwan said. "And this market represents a coming to Utah of our culture."
As a descendant of a Chinese worker for the Transcontinental Railroad, Kwan said Chinese culture has a strong history in Utah. South Salt Lake's Chinatown echoes the memory of Salt Lake City's original Chinatown on Plum Alley, which lasted until the mid-1900s, she said.
"Since then, we've had pockets of businesses, but not a center like this," Kwan said. "And I think this is great because our community can come and be together and share our culture with others, because this is not just a place for Chinese."
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