Thursday, September 24, 2009
Daniel Shim doesn’t look like your typical East Salinas businessman. Wearing stylishly tattered jeans and sandals, he sips on Red Bull outside an East Alisal Street donut shop. While patrons watch a telenovela, Shim books an albacore fishing trip on his iPhone earpiece.
In a sea of Latinos, Shim is a young enterprising Korean who owns a small sportswear store inside the Indoor Swapmeet. His ambitions, however, go beyond selling ball caps and AAA shirts inside the dense marketplace.
Shim was recently named president of the Salinas United Business Association, a merchants’ group with more than 600 members. The 30-year-old native is SUBA’s youngest president, a charter member of the nascent Salinas Rotary and a board member for Business Community Partnership, which turns high school students into entrepreneurs.
“I spend more time in East Salinas than at home [off Highway 68],” Shim says. “I want to give back to the area I grew up in.”
This year Shim has rebuilt his business from ashes. On the morning of Feb. 1, 2008, a fire charred half the Swapmeet’s businesses, including Shim’s inventory. “I was only able to salvage a few coins,” he says.
None of the businesses had insurance and it was 10 months before the 60-year-old building, a former movie theater, reopened. Realizing that he was better off than other business owners because he doesn’t have kids and lives with his parents, Shim stepped up.
Victor Mehia, SUBA’s executive director at the time, says Shim jumped into action immediately after the fire, helping start a recovery fund and seeking donations. Mehia says Shim also relayed information to the 30-plus businesses and their families. “This man was selfless,” Mehia says.
Shim worked with the city to coordinate an outdoor swap meet in the parking lot. Although a legal battle looms for the businesses to receive restitution for their losses, Shim says all of the merchants have miraculously returned.
~ ~ ~
Following in the footsteps of his two brothers who ran 7-Elevens in Salinas, Shim’s father Chang took over a convenience store on East Market Street, moving his family to Salinas when Shim was 6. He attended Los Padres Elementary School, where he was one of five Asians.
“I used to get in a lot of fights,” Shim says. “The kids that I fought with became my friends.”
Shim says he hardly got to see his parents, who run Young’s Market 365 days a year, from 8 or 9am to 10pm. “It was hard as a young person to swallow, because my parents weren’t there to watch my sports games,” he says. Seeing how hard his parents worked, he was hesitant to follow their path as small business owners.
Shim excelled in school and attended UC Davis, where he studied political science and economics. After graduating, he wanted to move down to Los Angeles but ended up working locally as a teacher’s aide.
He wasn’t planning to open his own business until a coveted spot opened up in the Indoor Swapmeet in 2005, where the Alisal business district’s bustle is most brisk. It was a sports clothing store, and since Shim loves sports – he’s a lifelong Oakland Raiders fan, adding “I admit they suck” – he figured it would be good fit.
Shim says business has been up and down but overall it’s been a success: He has paid off a loan from his family, returned sales to near pre-fire levels, and opened a second business, a women’s clothing store next door.
~ ~ ~
Along the left side of the Indoor Swapmeet, Shim stocks a wall of New Era baseball and football caps, racks of fashionable T-shirts and plain hoodies. As a business owner in red-and-blue-divided Salinas, Shim faces abnormal challenges, like how to approach selling gear to gang members.
Each neighborhood gang claims a sports team: Salinas Market Street wears Minnesota Twins; Salinas Fremont, San Francisco Giants; Boronda, Boston Red Sox; La Posada, Pittsburgh Pirates.
“I feel bad for the true sports fans of these teams,” Shim says.
He considered not carrying any of the gangs’ teams but he felt that would be letting them win – and gang members would find something else to represent their cliques. Since he doesn’t have a textbook way of coping with this conflict and can’t simply shut down his store, Shim reacts the same way he did after the fire: He does what he can.
That means encouraging his young customers to get good grades. Shim offers them free shirts and hats if they bring back report cards with As or Bs. As a BizCom board member, he has worked with Alisal High School students who completed a youth entrepreneurship program, where the seniors created business plans, from a cyber café to a Mexican-style Dave & Buster’s, and shadowed local business owners.
He also wants to adjust the application of SUBA assessment money collected from each business, contending SUBA could have a stronger influence by working with the city to address crime and beautify the East Salinas district.
“SUBA has great potential,” he says, “but we are not even close to reaching that.”