After five years, Phu Cuong Market is ready for customers

After millions of dollars, and the removal of two underground oil tanks, the Phu Cuong Market at 1188 Dorchester Ave. is open for business. Photo by Bill Forry

When Khiet Tran bought the property at 1188 Dorchester Ave. in 2006, the Vietnamese immigrant was hoping to build a supermarket. But he discovered its grounds were soaked with chemicals, and he was forced to sink hundreds of thousands of dollars into the property to get them out.

After millions of dollars, and the removal of two underground oil tanks, the Phu Cuong Market is open for business. “I did not realize there was so much clean-up,” Tran, 46, said in his sparse second-floor office, which overlooks the rows of food.

The 20,000-square foot store opened on Dec. 29, set up to compete with the Super 88 market in the South Bay area and two blocks away from the grocery store Tran purchased in 2000.

Sitting with his attorney, Kim Woongtae, Tran said a desire to expand drove him to open a larger market. “When I first opened my market, customers liked my market and they kept coming and coming,” he said. “And I decided to move to a bigger place.”

The move wasn’t easy: Along with removing the pollution in the soil, Tran also had to pay to take out the two 10,000 gallon storage tanks that had been left behind by the previous owners. The property once housed a diaper factory, according to Woongtae.

Construction started in February 2009, and the environmental clean-up ended up costing $400,000. In all, Tran spent $2.3 million, with construction slow going during a recession in which finding financing was hard.

“With all the difficulty, I almost gave up,” he said.

A 46-year-old resident who lives in Savin Hill, blocks away from the supermarket, Tran says he was frequently at nearby St. Ambrose Church, praying for guidance. “I cannot deny God helped me,” he said. “He gave me all the right people.”

Near the market’s front door, above the Duracell batteries and just below a security camera, hangs a picture of Jesus Christ. “I’m grateful to America,” said Tran, who left Vietnam in 1979, fled to Thailand, landed in Germany, and then finally came to the United States. He married his wife Yen Tran in 1996 and they have four sons.

The market, which features scenes of Vietnamese women in fields on its walls, sells bulk packages of Vietnamese rice, shark fins, fresh soy milk, chili sauces, bock choy, bean sprouts, ginger, lotus root, lemongrass, catfish, clams, lobsters and oysters. Woongtae says they hope to rent out a small area of the store to a coffee shop or a bank.

Outside, the market has 40 parking spaces and sits right on Dorchester Avenue, prompting some concern about traffic from local residents who say the owner can be unresponsive. “It’s just too congested,” said Joe Chaisson, a civic activist, who questioned the need for a large market in the area and said the supermarket’s trucks are unloading orders on Auckland Street instead of on the property. “It’s just typical,” Chaisson said. “Five years in the making and the attitude is the same and ‘we’ll do what we damn well please.’ ”

Asked about the traffic concerns, Tran said the city’s transportation department signed off on his plans.

Above the market’s sliding doors, banners offered greetings in Spanish, Chinese, and Cape Verdean. “It’s a neighborhood market,” Woongtae said.