Filed Under Immigration

Yaun Ah Gim Grocery

The corner grocery store and Chinese migrants played a vital role in serving the developing communities of Phoenix.

Chinese immigrants and their children played an important role in Phoenix's early growth, as suggested by the now-vacant grocery at the corner of Tonto Street and 4th Avenue.

The proprietor of that store for more than 41 years, Ah Gim Yaun migrated to Phoenix in 1911 and settled on that corner lot. He was born to immigrant parents in San Francisco in 1880. He built the corner grocery in 1918 and operated it until his death in 1959. His wife Quan Shee Yaun emigrated from China; after his death, she operated the grocery, until she died in 1977. The property was sold by their daughter in 1997. It's not entirely clear when it ceased to be a viable grocery.

Corner groceries were a staple of the rapidly growing city, especially prior to the development of automobile culture, which led to strip markets and other commercial forms. Chinese entrepreneurs, like Yaun, operated many such stores both in the city's historic Chinatown but also in Hispanic neighborhoods south of the railroad tracks in Phoenix. City Directories list 38 such establishments in 1921, 34 in 1925, and 56 in 1930. Yaun Ah Gim is one of only two such grocers in which the structure remains. (The other is Leong Quong & Company General Merchandise.)

Also on the property were four small apartments that Yaun presumably rented to immigrants and/or other migrants to the region seeking inexpensive housing. The grocery stores was ideally located, near to the railroad line where Yaun could obtain both produce and the ice necessary to cool it. Yaun Ah Gim Grocery was located in a neighborhood that was predominantly Hispanic, with migrants from Texas and Mexico, as well as many native-born Arizonans. It was several blocks south and east of the city's second "Chinatown" district.

Originally located along 1st street in downtown Phoenix, the Chinese community relocated the commercial center of their neighborhood to an area between Madison and Jackson and 1st and 3rd streets in the 1890s. By 1930s, entrepreneurs such as Yaun were developing successful enterprises in nearby neighborhoods and by 1945, Chinatown was nearly abandoned.

The neighborhoods south of the railroad tracks, which had once been the source of Phoenix's growth, gradually deteriorated beginning in the 1930s. Economic depression and "redlining" limited further investment in the neighborhood. Lending practices and federal housing policy literally built racism into the landscape, leading to the long-term marginalization of many of Phoenix's ethnic neighborhoods. In 1933, the federal government created the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) to relieve the problem of mortgage foreclosures as a result of the Great Depression. To delineate areas within the city worthy of HOLC funds, it relied on the racist National Association of Real Estate Boards (NAREB) to appraise and map the city. NAREB and urban planners coded cities, including Phoenix, into districts based on the race and ethnicity of its residents. Neighborhoods with African American, Latino or Asian residents, according to NAREB standards, warranted a ‘hazardous’ rating. They were "red lined," and residents were unable to receive loans. Not surprisingly, these practices led to the decline of the city's older neighborhoods.


Yaun Ah Gim Grocery Boarded Up in 2006
Yaun Ah Gim Grocery Boarded Up in 2006 Preservationists have been drawn to the Yaun Ah Gim Grocery Store because this unique business retains both its physical integrity (if not being dilapidated) as well as its historical significance. It is one of the last surviving buildings that points toward the history of the region's Chinese community. It also is an important type of commercial corner grocery that was typical throughout the city in the first decades of the 20th century but that is rarely seen today. Source: Asian American Historic Property Survey, Historic Preservation Office, City of Phoenix Creator: Scott Soliday and Vince Murray Date: 2006
The Chinese Question
The Chinese Question In this cartoon, Columbia says, "Hands off, gentlemen! America means fair play for all men" in response to the uptick in anti-Chinese sentiment in the decades following the Civil War. On the pages of Harper's Weekly, one of the leading mass market periodicals of the late nineteenth century, Cartoonist Thomas Nast defended Chinese immigrants against the harsh discrimination and racism they faced in the late nineteenth century. Eventually, anti-immigration sentiment prevailed, with the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1884--the first time that federal law barred an ethnic group from entry into the United States. Source: Harpweek, Harper's Weekly, February 18, 1871 Creator: Thomas Nast, Harper's Weekly Date: 1871
Close-up Fire Insurance Map of Phoenix, 1947
Close-up Fire Insurance Map of Phoenix, 1947 Sanborn Fire insurance maps documented urban growth and development in support of the fire insurance industry, which used the maps to track their risk exposure. A great source for urban historians, the maps show how American cities changed over time, revealing the contours of the city. The 1947 Sanborn Map of Phoenix shows the grocery store in pink, alongside the Mr. Yaun's dwelling (in blue), the apartments on the lot, as well as the nearby lots in the neighborhood, one of Phoenix's oldest sections. Source: Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Phoenix, Maricopa County, Arizona, 1916 - Oct. 1946, reprinted 1947, Page 43, Image 45, retrieved from the Library of Congress, (Accessed December 1, 2017.) Digital ID: Creator: Sanborn Map Company Date: 1947
Yaun Ah Gim Grocery Store
Yaun Ah Gim Grocery Store Yaun Ah Gim Grocery store was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, which reported that the it was "one of the few remaining buildings known to be occupied, and possibly erected, by a Chinese resident/businessman in Phoenix, Ah Gim Yaun, who was born in San Francisco and moved to Phoenix in 1911." Source: National Register of Historic Places, Arizona State Historic Preservation Office, "Yaun Ah Gim Groceries," 1984 Creator: Shauna Francissen
Date: 1983
Yaun Ah Gim, Apartments
Yaun Ah Gim, Apartments Several small apartments shared the lot with the Yaun Ah Gim Grocery store, presumably providing additional revenue to the family. Source: National Register of Historic Places, Arizona State Historic Preservation Office, "Yaun Ah Gim Groceries," 1984 Creator: Shauna Francissen Date: 1983
Race-Coded Map of Phoenix
Race-Coded Map of Phoenix Across the nation, city-planning maps of the 1920s and 1930s organized cities according to race. Phoenix planners and engineers developed this map in the 1930s. Orange marked the location of "Mexicans," yellow denoted "Anglos," and green indicated where "Blacks" lived within Phoenix. Source: Office of the City of Engineer, City of Phoenix, February 1937; taken from <book title> Date: 1937



Troy Valdez, “Yaun Ah Gim Grocery,” Salt River Stories, accessed May 23, 2024,