Family-run Asian market in Vancouver re-opens in redeveloped building on same block it had been for 30 years - New Canadian Media
Chong Lee Market was at 3308 22nd Ave at Rupert since 1993, seen in a 2011 photo posted to YelpSachi M via Yelp

Family-run Asian market in Vancouver re-opens in redeveloped building on same block it had been for 30 years

Chong Lee Market has been at Rupert and 22nd since 1993 in a building that was almost 80 years old.

Renfrew-Collingwood residents new and old are happy to have the Chong Lee Market back. One shopper said he’d been coming to the old location with his dad for 15 years.

Nowadays, Jason Luu comes every so often but his dad still comes once or twice a week, usually to pick up Vietnamese or Chinese food available at the “hot food” counter in the back.

It’s rare for neighbourhood businesses to not be displaced by densification.

Before having a space in a glossy new mixed-use building, Chong Lee Market had been on the same block of Rupert at 22nd since 1993 in a building that was almost 80 years old.

When asked what he thought of the remake, Luu said, “It’s more modern, spacious, [and] probably fits the modern taste of today.”

He said he prefers the old one but admits his preference is due to nostalgia.

Chong Lee Market a longtime family-run Vancouver business

With two store locations and one warehouse, Helen Nguyen runs the family business equally with her three siblings.

The new building at 3818 Rupert St was actually her father’s dream.

Chong Lee Market founder Vincent Wong noticed new developments of residential units with commercial space on the ground floor almost a decade ago.

He approached the landlord with a plan and, together, they figured out it was feasible.

“He chose to have it happen,” said Nguyen.

Her dad was business-savvy with calculated risks, even before he came to Canada as a Vietnamese “boat refugee” on Feb. 19, 1979. Though the family’s heritage is Chinese, Wong was born in Vietnam. 

Her parents were pioneers, Nguyen said.

When their store was in Chinatown, her parents bought and stored durian in their basement, Nguyen recalled. The smell would permeate throughout the neighbourhood and neighbours would complain because they weren’t used to it. 

They eventually left the Chinatown store they’d opened in 1987 due to increasing rent and some local community politics they didn’t want to engage in.

Her dad’s plan with the new Rupert building was to buy a unit above and come downstairs to work at the market, which ultimately would have proved impossible given the regulations that placed all the units on the rental market.

Unfortunately, Wong never got to see the final result of the redevelopment. He died in 2021.

The building was delayed due to COVID-19, when the supply chain slowed down at each step from the city permits office to construction and product supply. The whole process took an extra two years to complete, said Nguyen. 

The new Chong Lee Market had a soft opening this past October.

“We didn’t advertise. No fliers. Just opened the doors. I didn’t think anybody would come but [people] flooded in.”

Nguyen was both surprised and grateful. “We established a lot of relationships for the past 25 years. They know our names. We recognize faces.”

“We still have a lot of loyal ones coming back and just saying hello,” Nguyen added.

On a busy afternoon, you might see Nguyen chatting in Cantonese with regulars buying lottery tickets or grabbing the bathroom key.

At the same time, parents stop by to grab a couple of items for dinner before picking up their kids across the street at Renfrew Elementary School.

Nguyen has tracked a few changes in the neighbourhood. She said there’s a younger vibe with lots of young families, especially with new residential units above the store and the new mixed-use building diagonal to the Chong Lee Market. Several older people have moved away or are gone now, she pointed out.

She and her siblings are relearning what people are looking for. The current trend seems to be Korean food and ingredients.

Customers appreciate the selection and convenience of the independent store

Before living above the market, shopper Fatima Ghumra lived in Richmond where it’s mostly strip malls accessible by car only.

Now, getting fresh ingredients is more convenient for her. “I can pop out to grab an onion downstairs if I need it,” explained Ghumra.

Able to make a home-cooked meal more often, Ghumra said she’s eating better and it has changed the quality of her life.

The ingredients are affordable and she doesn’t see much of a price difference compared to the international section at Superstore.

Another resident, James Bond, also loves the Chong Lee Market for its location.

Moving here from Nova Scotia, he said he didn’t really have anything so he would walk up and down the hill to Superstore with just a backpack to hold his groceries.

The Chong Lee Market commercial space was empty for a long time, said Bond. Then he noticed, all of a sudden, people working until 2 a.m. regularly to put it together.

“The staff is dedicated,” he said admiringly.

Holding a takeout container from the “hot food” section, Bond said the thing he noticed was the hot pot options: the available soup packs and variety of ingredients.

“They even have portable stove burners on sale. I’m thinking of whether to get one.”


Deanna Cheng is a Vancouver-based New Canadian Media correspondent currently on a work experience placement with Glacier Media. This article was originally published on Vancouver Is Awesome.

Please share our stories!

Deanna Cheng is a freelance journalist who has been published in various publications such as Vancouver Courier and Asian Pacific Post. She often covers culture, intersectionality and Vancouver.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.