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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Closure of Manchester’s Saigon market only temporary

MANCHESTER – Being forced to pull up stakes and vacate – for reasons he still doesn’t fully understand – the space where his Asian and ethnic grocery store thrived for 11 years has been difficult enough for Thanh Ho.

But starting Monday, the day Ho shuttered Saigon Asian Market at 93 S. Maple St. in Manchester, things grew tougher yet for him and his employees, many of whom are family members. ...

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MANCHESTER – Being forced to pull up stakes and vacate – for reasons he still doesn’t fully understand – the space where his Asian and ethnic grocery store thrived for 11 years has been difficult enough for Thanh Ho.

But starting Monday, the day Ho shuttered Saigon Asian Market at 93 S. Maple St. in Manchester, things grew tougher yet for him and his employees, many of whom are family members.

“The worst thing has been people coming in from far away and finding out we’re closing,” Ho said Tuesday afternoon as helpers filled boxes, broke down display racks and readied merchandise for transport either to Ho’s Nashua store or into storage units.

“I see a lot of disappointed faces. Many stared at the empty shelves; some just started crying,” Ho said, growing a bit emotional himself.

Known regionally and beyond for stocking hard-to-find ethnic foods and ingredients, the two Saigon markets – Nashua’s is at 33 Pine St. – started out small but have evolved into destinations to which ethnic foodies and cooks have no problem driving, even from an hour or two away.

But the markets, especially the larger Manchester one, are for many visitors far more than places to buy food.

“People come here, spend hours talking to each other,” Ho said, referring to people of various ethnic groups who often bond with one another, even if they’re from different nations. “It’s like a big family, a community here. Many people tell us it feels like a part of home to them.”

The sudden, and emotional, shutdown of the Manchester store stems from a problem with the lease, Ho said. The Nashua store isn’t affected, and Ho and his wife, Kim Nguyen, are running specials there for Manchester-area customers who can make the trip.

But Ho and Nguyen are quick to call the shutdown temporary. While it will no longer be at 93 S. Maple St., Saigon will reopen in Manchester, possibly close by, Ho said.

“If everything goes OK, I’d say between three to six months,” he said of the opening of a new Saigon location. “I want to make it as soon as possible for our customers.”

Even now, three months after Ho learned of a discrepancy in the lease he feared would affect his five-year renewal option and brought his concerns to the landlord, the reason he was evicted remains elusive.

“Still, to this day, I don’t know,” he said, shaking his head. Yet more baffling, Ho said, is the fact the landlord told him everything was OK when he asked about the wording in the lease.

“She assured me everything would be fine. Then maybe a month later she said she wasn’t renewing our lease,” he said.

Nancy Phillips Fisher, the owner of the six-unit shopping plaza in which Saigon opened after about a year on Valley Street, couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.

Saigon’s arrival at 93 S. Maple St. soon paid dividends for the entire plaza, Ho said. “There was nobody here when we came,” he said. “Then they started coming in. It was a busy place.”

Sometime in May or June, Ho said, another tenant allegedly complained to Fisher about what Ho called bad ventilation and smells. “I said, ‘OK, we can fix that, I’ll put in new ventilation system,’” he said. “I was more than willing to do the work. But one day, she just said, ‘stop what you’re doing,’ and that was it.”

According to Manchester property records, Fisher assumed ownership of the plaza, which currently includes a diner, a function hall called 313 Associates and a large Savers store, in November 2011 from a trust in the name of Irene Phillips.

Before that, records state, Angelo and Irene Phillips had owned the property since 2008. The plaza sits on about 4 acres and is currently assessed at $2.64 million.

But to Ho, all the numbers, logistics and disruption the move is causing falls heaviest on the shoulders of his customers.

“Many are new to the U.S. and can’t drive yet, so they all walk here,” he said. “Now they say, ‘where will we go now?’

“Their faces just drop when they see what’s happening. Many times it’s me who ends up comforting them.”

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-6443 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Shalhoup on Twitter (@Telegraph_DeanS).