The Anchor of Chinatown
By Lisa Talley | firstname.lastname@example.org
Construction for the California high-speed rail closes roads leading into Chinatown, shutting off access for potential customers to businesses for a staggering minimum of 2 years. Ventura Ave, another primary connection to the downtown area, is next on the schedule to close.
Poised as one of the longest standing fixtures in Fresno’s Chinatown is Central Fish Co. Established in 1950, the family-owned business has seen the rise and decline of the once prominent and bustling downtown neighborhood – but even as the area has become an afterthought in the minds of many Fresno residents, Central Fish Co remains proudly as a cornerstone in Chinatown’s community.
The fish market opened its doors just a few buildings away from their current location as a Japanese grocery store with no more than 1,000 sq ft – roughly the size of the restaurant area in their store today. As Chinatown saw rampant growth, so did the little grocery store and the need to expand soon followed in 1979. At the time, many urged the owners to move their business north, but Central Fish chose to stick with their community and moved into the much larger building that they still occupy today.
“You know, we call it Chinatown for maybe, tradition’s sake but there are not many Chinese businesses in Chinatown. If anything, it should be Japantown,” shares Morgan Doizaki, Owner, and Operator of Central Fish Co, “The reason why Central Fish is [located] where it is, is because of the Buddhist temple that had been here since the early 1900s. We also have the Komoto building across the street, Union Bank which is still Japanese-owned … So, from Central Fish to the Temple, it’s a very Japanese street. Being part of a Japanese community is something I take pride in.”
The Buddhist Temple moved their congregation to North Fresno in 2011. The decision has not only impacted the Japanese community on a deep and emotional level but economically as well. It was not uncommon for Central Fish to see over one hundred temple members in their store every Sunday.
Losing hundreds of patrons every month was a considerable blow, and situations only worsened at the closing of Kern and Tulare St to make way for the high-speed rail construction. These main roads act as a bridge to Chinatown from the main center of downtown Fresno. Traffic is undoubtedly rerouted, but those less familiar with the area will have found a maze to reach Chinatown businesses rather than the straight-shot entry the roads initially provided. The closure also thwarts pedestrians, choking off even the well-established foot traffic of working professionals to Central Fish for lunch.
Concerns only continue to deepen over the projected closing of Ventura Ave, which now acts as a detour for the blocked off Kern St, leaving only Fresno St to serve as the main entrance to Chinatown. The streets will remain closed during the construction of the high-speed rail which is estimated to last at least 2 years.
“They said the high-speed rail is not going to be ready until 2027, that’s a long time to wait. We [still] haven’t seen the worst of what’s about to happen. I look forward to the future, but the present is very serious,” says Doizaki.
To help ease their plight, Central Fish has partnered up with other local Chinatown businesses to form ‘The Chinatown Fresno Foundation’ which is working to receive funding from either the high-speed rail or the city to help them through these transitionary years.
A reasonable conclusion would be for the City of Fresno to make some kind of accommodating adjustment to the closures, but the decision doesn’t lay with them. The orders are coming down from much further up and outside even the state of California; Union Pacific Railroad.
“In my opinion, Union Pacific is making life very difficult. No city planner would shut down what they shut down to affect Chinatown, but somebody who lives in Kansas is making decisions. I talk to people from the City and the County and even the high-speed rail, and they say this is one of the worst plans that was [obviously] not thought through,” explains Doizaki.
More Than A Fish Market
The common misconception is that Central Fish is strictly a wholesaler, not open to the public. On the contrary, Central Fish Co provides a grocery store complete with fresh produce, specialty items such as Hawaiian and Cajun products, a fish counter, a small-scale restaurant and even a Daiso, all available to the general public.
Daiso, a famous Japanese dollar store, is located up the stairs just to the left of the fish counter and everything is under $2.
The restaurant portion of the store hasn’t changed its core menu of fish n’ chips, noodles, and chicken bowls since 1979. They do, however, add specials throughout the year depending on the season to include salmon (sockeye, coho, wild), halibut, and crab all available fresh from their in-house fish market.
Support Chinatown, Support Central Fish
Years have come and gone since Chinatown was last considered one of the most active and lively areas of Fresno. As the memories become shorter, fewer and further between, Chinatown has become a ghost in the minds of everyone else. But for those who live in its wake every day, there is a sadness and a glimmer of hope. Even though the traffic is lighter, and the faded markings of businesses long gone serve as a reminder of its former glory, the beauty of the neighborhood’s diversity, resiliency, and sense of community serves as a beacon to ensuring the survival of Chinatown long enough for it to see its own revitalization.
Doizaki asks that people “Support Central Fish during this rough time – we’re trying to make the best out of a tough situation. Business is definitely down. Get the word out and support the Chinatown community.”
Central Fish is located at 1535 Kern St, at the corner of G St and Kern, open seven days a week from 9a to 6:30p Sunday through Thursday and til 7p Friday and Saturday.