Shopping at Giant Foods

Chinese American Supermarkets in Northern California

Alfred Yee

  • Published: 2003. Paperback 2013
  • Subject Listing: Asian American Studies; History / Western History
  • Bibliographic information: 208 pp., 15 photos, 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Contents

From the 1930s through the 1970s, Chinese American owned supermarkets located outside of Chinatown, catering to a non-Chinese clientele, and featuring mainstream American foods and other products and services rose to prominence and phenomenal success in Northern California, only to decline as union regulations and competition from national chains made their operation unprofitable. Alfred Yee's study of this trajectory is an insider's view of a fascinating era in Asian American immigration and entrepreneurship. Drawing on oral interviews with individuals who worked in the business during its peak and decline, he presents an accessible history that illustrates how this once-thriving business fostered the social and economic integration of Chinese Americans into life in the United States.

Yee demonstrates how Chinese American supermarkets were able to sell American groceries at reduced prices by using the cheap labor of family members and Chinese immigrants whose entry to the United States had been sponsored by their employers. This type of symbiotic relationship was eventually undermined by labor unions' demands that employees be covered by labor laws and fully compensated for all hours worked. Also contributing to the ultimate demise of Chinese American supermarkets were increasing costs of capitalization and operation, the dominance of national chain stores, and difficulties arising from traditional Chinese methods of business management.
Alfred Yee is a lecturer at California State University, Sacramento. Previously, he worked in the grocery business for over twenty years as both an employer and employee.

"Gives superb insight into the Chinese American supermarkets. . . . An important contribution to Asian American studies and business history. . . . Exceptionally informed on both the social significance and the retailing and marketing aspects."
-Franklin Ng, author of Adaptation, Acculturation, and Transnational Ties among Asian Americans
Community, Employment, and Enterprise
Golden Times
Decline and Passing
Employees and Salesmen
Chinese Management and Labor Unions

"This book provides a revealing insight into a remarkable chapter of American and Chinese American economic history . . . a valuable source on this thread of Chinese American economic and social history."
-Benedikt Kohler, China Information, v18 2004

"The unlikely venue of the modern supermarket enables readers to catch glimpses of how Chinese Americans carved out an economic niche for themselves amidst overt and covert discrimination."
-The Journal of American History

"Yee's accessible study provides rare insights into the business practices and relationships of Chinese-American enterprises, and their historical legacy. As someone who spent fifteen years in the industry, his passion about the subject, first-hand knowledge, and personal contacts made him uniquely qualified to write this study."
-Left History

"Yee's ability to bring to the fore differing and often competing perspectives about the supermarket industry makes this work rich and engaging."
-Ameriasia Journal