Another K-Town: South Koreans on Northern Boulevard

Korean business thrives on Union Street

As many New Yorkers already know, there is a Korea Town in Manhattan, but that packed square cannot be actually called a town; its length encompasses a little more than a single street. Compare this with the Korean community in Flushing, with its multicolor and conspicuous Korean language store signs protruding out of awnings along Union Street, in the area immediately before and after Northern Boulevard, and you will find that the real Korea Town might be in Flushing.

There you can practically have a Korean experience without needing to go to Korea. And the variety of commerce there just adds to its contrast with Korea Town; there are various Korean banks, a large variety of shops selling everything from traditional Korean clothing to popular Korean books, numerous and diverse choices of Korean restaurants, bakeries, and coffee shops, and even professional services offered by Korean lawyers, doctors, and accountants. It is definitely an exemplary lens into the larger Korean community in New York.

In the 1930s, there were merely 200 Koreans in the city (Binder, 171). An influx of Koreans to New York City was only possible after 1965, the year that the national origins quota was removed. They initially settled in different neighborhoods but ended up concentrating in areas such as Flushing and Bayside and Little Neck. Although Flushing was entirely white in its early history, Korean and Chinese immigrants began to settle there in the 1970s, and since the 1980s, they have started to become predominant. The Korean population in the city has increased so much that the 2008 American Community Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau found that there are 1.3 million Koreans living in the US, 123,000 of which were living in New York.

Most Koreans came to work in the city as medical professionals, but others settled as greengrocery owners, which is by far the largest group of Korean enterprises in the city (Binder, 235). Nail salons have also become a large source of business for Koreans, perhaps because the Korean culture, which emphasizes politeness and kindness toward strangers, made them more apt at providing this type of service, or it might be just because the enterprise of nail salons does not require English proficiency and, as a result, is a easy way for many new Korean immigrants to get started in America.

Although Koreans in Korea are mostly Buddhists, most Koreans in America are Christians (Binder, 236). Because of this, Flushing has numerous Korean churches. We could notice in our walks, for example, the Council of Korean Churches at 3534 Union St, which is a network hub for other Christian churches across the city, and the Korean Presbyterian Church located at 5105 Queens Blvd, as well as several other Korean Christian churches along Union Street and Parsons Boulevard.

We see in Flushing a radiant Korean community with cultural institutions that serve as a center for Korean culture in general. There is a complete Korean section in the third floor of Flushing’s Queens library, a Korean radio station in 39 Av, right next to Roosevelt Av, and in between Union and Main. The East West School for International Studies for example teaches Korean classes and other Asian languages instead of the more traditional Spanish, German, or French that other schools teach. Francis Lewis High School also offers Korean as a language elective. Korean restaurants such as Gum Gang San (금강산) and Jang Tuh (장터) offers a typical taste of Korean food. Korean banks such as Nara Bank (나라은행) and Woori Bank (우리은행) are juxtaposed to the Chinese banks and the more typical Chase, Citibank, TD Bank, HSBC, etc., all of which have promotional material and signs in Korean.

Sources/ Further Reading:

Binder, Frederick M. All the Nations Under Heaven. Columbia University Press: Chichester, West Sussex, New York: 1995

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