ITHACA, N.Y. –– According to the U.S. Census Bureau, over 10 percent of Tompkins County’s population, some 10,000 or so non-student residents, are of Asian origin. Many of these folks grew up with unique cultural practices and traditions, including their own cuisine. Moving several thousand miles can make it difficult to find or make those foods and meals that they know and love, dishes that remind them of their first home or cherished family get-togethers. A new Asian supermarket in the city of Ithaca hopes to make it a little easier to bring a taste of Asia into their homes here in the city of gorges.

Ren’s Market held a soft opening on Nov. 1 at the former GreenStar space at 701 West Buffalo Street. The nearly 10,000 square-foot had been on the market since GreenStar opened its new flagship store on Cascadilla Street earlier this year.

For store owner Rockey Ren, it’s his fourth Asian supermarket. Ren immigrated to the United States from China in the late 1980s, and put down roots in the Rochester area. With partner Qian Li, Ren opened the Asia Food Market grocery store in suburban Rochester in 2005, followed by stores in Syracuse and suburban Buffalo. According to Ren, opening a location in the Ithaca market just made good business sense.

“Ithaca has a large Asian population and a strong Asian community with many late night Asian restaurants. We did a marketing check and they don’t have a big Asian food market, there’s a lack of larger Asian grocery stores in Ithaca, so we decided it would be a very good location. We wanted to serve the Asian people better, and we also want to help diversify the local culture,” said Ren.

“We’ve been looking for a while. A few years ago, we had an offer from the (Shops at Ithaca) mall, but that didn’t go through. But this old GreenStar space is a very good location. Already being a grocery store, we didn’t have to change that much of the layout, and it was an ideal fit.”

Now, some folks might note the Win Li market on the south end of Ithaca on Route 13, as well as Green Castle and Ithaca Tofu in the village of Lansing. Ren feels that while they have similar appeal, Ren’s Mart will complement their offerings and carve out a successful business of its own in the local grocery market.

“We’re a little bit bigger, and we have more Asian products compared to the other stores. A lot of the other Asian grocery stores are specialty stores, they’re tiny or cater to one group, Korean or Japanese. We offer a large selection of products including Filipino, Taiwanese, Chinese, Japanese and Korean goods. We offer a larger range of products that would set us apart.”

The new store offers fresh meat, seafood and fresh produce, as well as imported non-perishables. Ren says a prepared food department has not been set up yet, but will open at the store at a later date. For those curious to check it out (Reddit’s taken to favorably comparing it to H Mart, a New Jersey-based Korean-American grocery chain), the store is open seven days a week, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.com.