Book preserves the untold stories of Korean-owned businesses

LOS ANGELES—May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. A new book created by a photographer who moved to Southern California during the pandemic spotlights the Korean community in Koreatown, Los Angeles.

What You Need To Know

  • “Koreatown Dreaming” was crowdfunded through Kickstarter
  • The book profiles 40 Korean-owned businesses in Koreatown
  • The profiles cover a wide variety of shops from a furniture store, bakery, to a home good store
  • Ten percent of the proceeds of sales of Koreatown Dreaming are donated to two nonprofits helping the community

Koreatown only covers a few square miles in LA. But Emanuel Hahn says since December 2020, he’s walked more than one hundred miles all around K-Town.

“I think there were days when I would cover like 10,000 steps,” Hahn said.

Hahn had moved to LA from New York in hopes of working as a director in film. But he made the move during the first year of the pandemic. And he said when he arrived, “Everything was closed. So I couldn’t really do anything. I couldn’t meet people. I couldn’t go out.”

So Hahn started exploring K-Town, a place the Saipan-born Korean American had only visited but never spent a lot of time. He brought along his camera from him as he walked all over the area.

As he snapped pictures of the different signs on buildings, Hahn met a lot of Korean shop owners. Hahn says the conversations, “Kind of sparked a curiosity in me. And I kind of wanted to learn more about their stories.”

That began his path to create a book about the Korean-owned businesses in Koreatown. Hahn says with signs of gentrification all around, he wondered, “What’s going to happen to the neighborhood? What is it going to look like in 5-10 years?”

Add a pandemic and lockdowns forcing some businesses that had been around for decades to close, Hahn says, “I just felt this sense of urgency to document places here because I just felt things were going to change really quickly.”

I have turned to Kickstarter to crowd-source the funding for the book. And he raised the money quickly, in just three weeks.

“I think there were a lot of people who wanted to see this book out in the world,” he said.

He got to work documenting the stories of 40 different Korean-owned businesses in town, from a tennis club, to a baker, to a hairstylist. The list includes what people familiar with K-Town might consider an institution, “김스전기” or Kim’s Home Center.

Scott Kim’s grandparents opened the location on West Olympic Boulevard decades ago offering made-in-Korea household products. His parents took him over and eventually Kim will become the third-generation owner.

“It’s a really big honor to be part of this book,” Kim said. “I hope they can really understand the hard work that was put into each and every one of these businesses that are here in Koreatown today. And kind of show how the culture has developed from what it was back then to what it is now. And to be more open to Korean culture, as well as other cultures.”

It took a lot of work and time to get “Koreatown Dreaming” published. But Hahn says it was all worth it to help share these untold stories.

“Especially during the pandemic, so many businesses closed permanently without a sound. And no one knows about them,” he said.

Hahn says at least through the book he helped create, the history of the 40 people who were profiled will forever be preserved in the pages

The book is $40 and available here or at Kim’s Home Center.

Ten percent of the proceeds of sales of “Koreatown Dreaming” will be donated to two nonprofits helping the entire community of Koreatown, including the Koreatown Youth and Community Center and Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance.


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