I first met Ray Chinn in 1991 when I started working in the ID. He and other family members owned the Rex Building and operated the Wa Sang Grocery store next to Tai Tung Restaurant on King Street. The store closed in 1997, but Ray has remained an important leader and role model in the community.
Ray is often described as a nice guy and has received his share of awards, including an International Examiner Community Voice Award in 1995. I would emphatically agree Ray is genuine and people don’t come nicer than him in this world. With his reputation and age, Ray could be vocally critical of things in the neighborhood by calling people and organizations out and holding them accountable. But he does not. It’s not Ray. He reminds me a lot of my father, quiet, observant, fair and never attempting to draw too much attention or praise to himself.
Last week, I met with Ray and for the first time with his daughter, Allie. Ray, Allie and I have been at the same community meetings a couple of times, but I never really carried a conversation with her. Ray is into his retirement years, so he is carefully handing the reigns over to Allie. Since she looks much younger than I am, I consider her to be the “next” generation.
The Chinn family sold the Eastern Building for low-income housing in 1996, but Ray and the family continued to manage its 7,000 square feet of commercial space. International Community Health Services (ICHS) administrative offices vacated after 10+ years in 2009. The space is still vacant, so we met to brainstorm some leasing ideas.
We shared the same stories about the ailing commercial leasing market and came to the conclusion that we’re all just trying to survive this harsh economic downturn.
Between the stories of economic despair, I did find a ray of hope.
There are some really good people from the “next” generation that are finding their place in the neighborhood.
At our meeting, Allie talked about finding a tenant for the Eastern Building that would bring value to the community. She didn’t talk about “highest and best use” or achieving a certain rate of return. Ray and Allie don’t want to rent the space to the next person who has the money to open the “best Chinese restaurant in Chinatown.” I wish more property owners realized that it is a detriment to the neighborhood and brings little value to their property to put in another Chinese/Asian restaurant or noodle shop that believes their survival depends on another list of $3.00 lunch specials. Allie will serve her family and the neighborhood well with her leasing criteria.
The “next” generation also just moved in next door to my office. Tim Wang and his young 20s and 30s staff are opening an office for marketing and advertising consulting. Tim started in the neighborhood working for the Chinatown International District Business Improvement Association in 2002. He eventually became the Executive Director, but left in 2007 to start his own marketing and advertising firm. After a few years working out of his house, he was ready to rent an office space. In this commercial leasing environment, Tim received a variety of offers for him to lease office space in upscale neighborhoods and buildings. We’re lucky that Tim chose the ID. The neighborhood will benefit from his dedication, professional network, financial support and expertise in marketing.
If Allies and Tims represent the next generation, the preservation and revitalization efforts in the International District will continue even stronger past my generation. They remind me that the next generation is here, and they do genuinely care for people and the neighborhood.
Ray continues to be a role model to me after almost 20 years. He helped shape the value of community in Allie. I see how Ray’s influence on the community goes well beyond him, his family and his work.
I hope to become a lot more like my father and just maybe, a little more like Ray. I hope my 15 year-old daughter becomes an Allie of her “next” generation.