Hmart opens its first Korean market in NorCal, plans South Bay expansion

SAN JOSE — Hmart opened its first upscale Korean market in Northern California on Wednesday with colorful fanfare, and the upscale grocery chain is already planning to expand in the South Bay.

The new Hmart store in west San Jose offers a variety of international foods. It has a food court with a Korean tofu house, Chinese dishes and Japanese fusion cuisine, an Hmart spokeswoman said, along with ready-to-cook dishes to save time at home. There are counters of fresh fish, meat, poultry and produce.

“San Jose is a very affluent area,” said William Choi, Hmart’s president and chief operating officer, describing why the company picked the store at 1179 S. De Anza Blvd. for its first Bay Area market.

Shoppers packed the 28,000-square-foot market for the grand opening, drawn by offers of steep discounts.

“It’s very well organized — the quality is good,” said Julie Chao, a Cupertino resident who bought some items. “The selection is as much as Whole Foods.”

The throngs that wandered along into the store aisles found well-stocked shelves filled with colorfully packaged items. In the rear of the store, customers crowded around fish, meat and poultry sections.

“I’ll come back on a regular basis,” said Jan Smudski, a Cupertino resident.

Hmart also is busy building out the interior of a former supermarket in north San Jose for its next store in the area. The store will be located at the corner of Brokaw and Oakland roads and will be about 43,000 square feet, Choi said.

“In about five months, we will have a grand opening” for the second store, Choi said.

About 50 people work in the new store, which had a “We’re Hiring” sign posted on the front windows.

“I’ve been waiting for more than a year for this,” said Joomi Nam, who lives in Saratoga. “They have a great selection. I didn’t expect the crowds to be so big.”

San Jose officials also embraced the new store, saying it will bolster an already busy retail district.

“It’s great to see Hmart here,” San Jose City Councilman Chappie Jones said. “It’s another option for residents here. This will be great for residents of San Jose and this council district.”

A primary rival for Hmart is 99 Ranch, which has 42 stores, including 36 in California, 16 in the Bay Area and 18 in Southern California.

99 Ranch also has stores in Nevada, Texas and Washington, and it’s planning to expand into New Jersey and Oregon.

New Jersey-based Hmart operates 57 stores in 11 states. It operates in California, Maryland, New York, Michigan, Georgia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Texas, Illinois, Virginia and Massachusetts.

The San Jose store’s grand opening drew more than 1,000 customers to Hmart during the first hour alone.

“Hmart is a perfect fit for the demographics of the area,” said Mark Biagini, a commercial real estate broker who specializes in retail and a vice president with Biagini Properties, a commercial realty firm. Biagini helped arrange the Hmart lease at the new west San Jose site. “You can tell how well they will do by all the people who attended the grand opening.”

Hmart executives said they are eyeing expansions beyond San Jose, possibly on the eastern side of the bay and potentially San Francisco at some point. “Maybe in a year or two,” Choi said.

“We tend to be regional draws,” he said, “even from 20 to 30 miles away.”

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