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Arizona Official Recalls Family’s Roots In Grocery

Yee
Kimberly Yee

Fungs ran New State Market in Phoenix for six decades

Kimberly Yee is many things. First and foremost, she is Arizona’s state treasurer. But she also is the granddaughter of Y.W. and Sue Fung, who founded New State Market in Phoenix.

The Fungs opened the grocery store in 1933 at Seventh Avenue and Buckeye Road on the city’s south side. It remained open for 63 years before closing.

The Fungs moved to Arizona from Ohio, where they had originally emigrated from China. Neither had any prior knowledge of the grocery business, according to Yee. They called their store “New State Market” as Arizona had been incorporated for only 21 years at the time and “was a new state for them.”

Along with the business, the Fungs were able to purchase additional land across the street from the store for their growing family.

“They had a house that they built next door to the store. It’s small – three-bedrooms, one-bathroom,” Yee said. “Eventually, they would have nine children all in this little house. All of them were born in the house because back then they didn’t have hospitals like they do here today.

“They would raise their own chickens and they were able to work and live literally right next door to each other.”

Even as young children, family time was spent stocking shelves, working the cash register and – once they got old enough – taking inventory. The store had a meat counter, deli, fresh fruits and vegetables and eventually a freezer section. Even when they weren’t working, Yee’s mother, aunts and uncles spent much of their free time in the stock room.

“My aunts and uncles would go to the back when they weren’t working in the store to do their homework out in the cooler areas of the stockroom,” Yee said. “Many of those boxes back in the day – and crates as well – they would stack them real high.”

Yee’s mother was the youngest of the five daughters and had a special place for getting her homework done.

“She would go all the way up on the boxes, the highest point because it was the closest to the light source. And she would do her homework up there,” Yee said. “Oftentimes, they would look for her and they couldn’t find her. Because sometimes she said she would fall asleep up there and take a nap. They really did live and work in the store day and night.”

The family labored until the store closed at 10 every night. That was when the nine children were allowed to go out and play. Dinner wasn’t served until late in the evening, Yee said. Even then, some of the second-generation Fungs weren’t ready to come in and eat.

“To this day, many of my aunts and uncles and even my mother don’t eat dinner until very, very late in the evening because that’s just how they lived,” she said.

As the Fung children grew up, they continued to help out around the store while setting off on different paths. Some went to college, others went into business for themselves. Yee’s mother became a teacher. Most of the brothers, Yee said, came back to work at the store with their own children.

“I think my eldest uncle, his sons ran the store over the later years with their families. It stayed in the family even though some of the gals went on to teach full time,” she said. “But they would always come back on the weekends or after work…it was always a family-run store.”

Yee did her part around the business. If she wanted to see her family, she knew that’s where they would be.

“It was my grandma’s store…we visited my grandmother every week,” she recalled. “And when we went to her house, we went to the store because they’re right next to each other. You hung out in the store and helped the uncles.”

In particular, Yee recalled counting old-fashioned paper food stamps.

“As a little girl, they had me sort them into colors and stack them…I remember that was one of my earliest jobs, she said. “And the irony is that I’ve become state treasurer, so I’m still counting money.”

By the time Yee’s cousins were in charge of the store, the city wanted to expand south and offered to buy the property.

“It’s bittersweet, of course, because it had been 63 years,” she said. “It wasn’t something they asked for. They probably would have stayed longer.”

But just because the store was gone did not mean that Sue Fung was going to leave. She refused to sell the adjoining house.

“She still lived in that little house until she died,” Yee said. “She would refuse to move even though it was not a safe neighborhood in her later years.”

For more news on the grocery industry in Arizona, click here.

About the author

Jack R. Jordan

Content Creator

Jordan joined The Shelby Report in May 2022 after over a year in the newspaper industry. A native of Marietta, Georgia, he studied writing and communications at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. He spends too much time in the grocery store trying to find recipe ingredients, so he looks forward to covering the industry.

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