Last week, members of the Annandale Chamber of Commerce and Korean-American business owners in the Annandale area came together for an open dialogue to discuss ways to improve the quality of life and business environment in Annandale.
The informal meeting, which is one of a series that have been held over the years, was held on Mar. 3 in Falls Church and focused mainly on establishing the foundation for the chamber members and Korean-Americans doing business in Annandale to meet regularly.
Various Annandale chamber officers such as Vice President Carol Zach-Reuss, Executive Director Vicki Burman, past chamber president and American Legion Public Relations Committee Chairman Marv Rodney, Chamber Vice President and Chairman of the Annandale Commercial Business District Planning Committee Dan McKinnon, and Dr. Barbara Saperstone, chamber secretary and provost of the Annandale campus of . Mason District Supervisor Penelope Gross and a representative for Del. Kaye Kory (D-38th district) also spoke to the group.
Korean-American representatives and business owners included Chin Choi with Chosun Ilbo, who sponsored the meeting, David Han, president of Hans Travel in Annandale, Soo Yee with Annandale’s Oxford Academy, several members of the Korean-American Association of Virginia including Michael Kwon, members of the Korean-American Women’s Chamber of Commerce and more.
Over the course of the meeting, the group discussed several topics for including signage in Annandale, the shift in the experience of Korean-Americans in Annandale years ago versus today and more. The overall tone of the discussion was positive as almost every member present mentioned their willingness to work with each other for the betterment of the Annandale community.
What is Annandale?
In his opening remarks, Gavin Dock, president of the Annandale Chamber of Commerce, spoke about celebrating the “vibrant community” that is Annandale and celebrating the neighborhood with community events such as the the chamber hosts every year.
“Annandale is much more than a geographical area; it’s a very diverse community,” said Dock. “We all have a vested interest in business and life here. The idea is to celebrate Annandale and promote it as a great place to live.”
During her remarks, Gross said many people incorrectly label Annandale as “Korea Town”. “It is not. It is a multicultural community that works. Yes, there are many Korean businesses, but there are also several businesses owned by other ethnic groups. There’s room for all of us in Annandale,” said Gross. “We should all work to make Annandale a place where everyone wants to live, work and play.”
Gross also brought up the topic of signage in Annandale and the benefits of having English on some of the signs to attract non-Korean residents. “The first amendment says you can put what you want on your sign, but it does help to have a little English on your sign to expand your business and advertise to people," Gross said.
The Korean-American Experience in Annandale
Zach-Reuss, who oversees the , said she’s seen a growing interest from Korean-American businesses that want to have a space in the shopping center to attract more mainstream clients.
“When Korean business owners settled in Annandale, there were language barriers and cultural problems, but now many businesses are interested in coming into the mainstream,” said Jae Lee with the Korean American Artists Association of Washington. “Some have spent so much time doing business with Korean customers, they’ve forgotten how to do business with others.”
When asked by Zach-Reuss if it’s easier for Korean businesses now because second and third generations are running several of the businesses now, Lee said it’s easier because compared to their parents, those generations have a better understanding of how to network and are bilingual.
McKinnon praised Korean businesses in Annandale, saying that without their support, Annandale “would not be where it is today”. McKinnon also encouraged members to spread the word about the comprehensive plan to make Annandale an attractive place to live and the Annandale Central Business District Planning Committee’s efforts to make that happen. “We want people to come to Annandale, not drive through it,” McKinnon said.
Steve Choi, president of IL Creation and a member of the Korean-American Association of Virginia said due to traffic concerns and the growing Korean business population in Centreville, organizers for the annual KORUS festival in Annandale may decide to move the festival to Centreville. “Annandale is losing ground. If the KORUS festival moves to Centreville then many Korean-American businesses will be hurt,” said Choi.
Also of interest to residents is Han’s idea to start a bus service from Annandale to New York that would be open to Korean-Americans and the general population.
The next planned meeting between the Annandale chamber and Korean-American business owners and leaders is Thursday, Mar. 31.