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.