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Re: The Downtown boom has spawned economic opportunities for more than just developers
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I always thought his name was George!?

Posted on: 2006/9/29 12:41
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The Downtown boom has spawned economic opportunities for more than just developers
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Downtown grows up and patience pays off
Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Ask Hansen Chiang about the transformation of Downtown Jersey City and the local businessman quickly produces a wide smile. Then he reaches deep in his desk drawer to show just how profound the change has been for him personally.

In an aged manila folder, Chiang keeps several reminders of what his life was like more than 20 years ago, when he opened a liquor store on Washington Street among the smattering of homes, rail yards, factories and industrial warehouses.

The old photos of the store - now called Liberty Wine and Deli - show the wear and tear of urban blight and depict shelves stocked with rows of liquor, including cheap, pocket-sized bottles.

"On every corner there was a bar for the factory workers getting off one of three shifts, and I used to have to give credit to customers on food stamps because some people didn't have the money," Chiang said.

"I was robbed a few times, one time at gunpoint. I was hit from behind with a lead pipe and sent to the emergency room," Chiang recalled.

Today, thanks to the influx of new residents with disposable income, he has expanded his business and eliminated hard liquor sales altogether - replacing it with wine from countries all over the world.

Chiang is a first generation Chinese immigrant, and his American dream story is emblematic of the progress of this once blue-collar neighborhood that now sits in the shadows of the skyscrapers that have come to dominate the Jersey City waterfront.

Chiang's story shows that the Downtown boom has spawned economic opportunities for more than just developers, multinational corporations and the city - common targets of residents' anger.

It has created life-changing opportunities for many others with a lot more to lose.

"When I bought here, I always thought this place had potential, but it took a while for it to take off," he said. "It was financially risky those early years, so I guess I was just 10 years too early, but my patience paid off."

Chiang's fortunes forever changed in 1994, when the much-anticipated Portside Tower was completed and the neighborhood's transformation began to take off.

The city now expects more than 15,000 new residential units to be built within the next decade, bringing more consumers to his doors and helping secure stability for years to come.

The hard-working Chiang devoted 12-hour days, six days a week, to his business during those lean years. He spent nights away from his family, sleeping alone in a single bed above the shop - which he now calls home.

Today, thanks to the new residents' appetite for wine, he works just weekdays and leans on five employees to help him run the shop. The dilapidated storefront in the photo is now fitted with classy mahogany and he bought the dry cleaners next door and expanded his business.

But most important to Chiang is what the transformation of the neighborhood has meant to his family.

"I was able to put my two girls through college, and Jersey City has been real good to me, and I am real thankful," said Chiang.

JARRETT RENSHAW can be reached at jrenshaw@jjournal.com

Posted on: 2006/9/29 11:03
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