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Asian grocer Viet-Wah closes Seattle store after 41 years

The front of Viet-Wah is shown with a couple of cars parked out front on an overcast day.
Grace Madigan
/
KNKX
Viet-Wah didn't move to its location on Jackson until 1988. Over the years the store became a staple in Seattle's Little Saigon neighborhood.

After more than 40 years the beloved Asian grocery store, Viet-Wah, closed its doors in Seattle for good.

Owner and founder Duc Tran came to the city in 1976 as a refugee following the Vietnam War. He opened the Asian market after he struggled to find certain ingredients to cook Vietnamese food. What started out as a small mom-and-pop shop turned into a neighborhood staple.

Newly arrived Southeast Asian immigrants from all over the Puget Sound area flocked to Tran’s store to get products they couldn’t get anywhere else. In 2006, a second location opened in Renton, Wash. His daughter, Leeching Tran is now vice president of the company.

"We'd have people come with the whole family in tow and load up their shopping carts with hundreds of dollars of groceries. And that would last them through the week because they'd come from near and far," Leeching said. 

Leeching reflected on the fact that things like the variety of candies and snacks the store has carried have meant so much to people over the years.

"You don't see, like, tamarind candies and like these little fruit jellies at QFC. It's just, it's not the same," Leeching said. "It's so cool that all these Asian kids growing up, like, have this shared common experience. Even though we have different experiences, like, we probably all eat the same snacks, which is pretty cool."

Over the years some things have changed. It's not quite as hard to find fish sauce or rice noodles in most grocery stores. And there aren’t as many new immigrants coming to Viet-Wah. But the store itself hadn't changed much. Leeching said the layout is still essentially the same and the mint green light fixtures which look straight from the '80s because they are, were still hanging.

"When we posted on social media our closing announcement, a lot of people...in their thirties or so, were like, no, that's my childhood store," Leeching said. "They remember coming with their parents and like going shopping after church and sitting in the carts, being pushed around or playing video games because we used to have arcade games in the back of the store or like buying their special treats that you could only get here."

Leeching said it's bittersweet but it was time for the store to close. The store's landlord had sold the building which is slated for redevelopment. On top of staff shortages that started during the pandemic and concerns about safety in the neighborhood, now seemed like a good time to say goodbye. Many of the Seattle location's employees will move to the Renton location which remains open.

Raised in Western Washington, Grace Madigan has contributed to the International Examiner, KEXP, and Sip Northwest. She previously served as director for The Evergrey, a newsletter for Seattle locals. She likes to play and watch soccer, cook dumplings and create playlists.