Bellingham neighborhood says goodbye to Giffords Market

Neighbor Ray Martin, owner of American Antiques, visits with Giffords Market owner Sung Mun on Monday morning, Aug. 24 2015, at the Bellingham mini-mart on Elm Street. The store is closing Aug. 31 to make way for a brewery.
Neighbor Ray Martin, owner of American Antiques, visits with Giffords Market owner Sung Mun on Monday morning, Aug. 24 2015, at the Bellingham mini-mart on Elm Street. The store is closing Aug. 31 to make way for a brewery. The Bellingham Herald

A convenience store that served as a shining example of neighbors helping neighbors after a shooting 11 years ago is closing at the end of the month.

Giffords Market is scheduled to have its last day of business Monday, Aug. 31. The store is at 2404 Elm St., next to the Columbia neighborhood. It’s been run by Jong Min Park and his wife, Sung Mun, since 2002.

The neighborhood was shocked on Jan. 25, 2004, when someone came into the store and shot Park in the face during an attempted robbery. According to court documents, Park was behind the counter when someone entered the store that evening. He said hello and looked up, heard the word “register” before a bullet went through his face and out the back of his neck. He survived the gunshot wound, even returning to work two weeks later.

Denise Daniels was later arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree assault. Daniels, a Whatcom County resident, was 28 at the time of the sentencing.

While the shooting was a horrifying event for Park and his family, what they tend to dwell on now is the response from the neighborhood. Volunteers came in to run the store while Mun nursed her husband back to health. Hundreds of people lined up outside the store and bought nearly everything in it to show support for the family. According to an article in The Bellingham Herald, during one event following the shooting the market sold more than $10,000 in merchandise and collected more than $6,500 in donations.

The help was sustained. Businesses donated services and products while volunteers rebuilt the area around the cash register and installed security cameras. It caught the attention of the Washington State Legislature, which passed a resolution honoring those who pitched in to help. Mun said customers who supported them in that time of need continued to drop by to pick up some necessities years later.

“The support from neighbors is always something I’ll remember,” Mun said during an interview Monday, Aug. 24, while working behind the counter. “The one thing I’m going to miss is the neighborhood kids. I saw so many of them growing up.”

Her husband has continued to work, handling the “heavy duty” of stocking the shelves, she said. While he wasn’t in the store on Monday morning, she said he’s also been appreciative of the support from the neighborhood. When asked how he’s been in the years following the shooting, she paused, saying he has some good days and sad days.

Having volunteers pitch in to run the store was cathartic for the neighborhood, said Flip Breskin, a Columbia neighborhood resident. She said many people were upset about the shooting, and this turned out to be one way to show they wouldn’t accept that kind of violence in their community.

Mun said she’s also noticed it in the way the neighborhood responds to suspicious situations. The area has some low-level crime, but people react quickly.

“If something is wrong they (neighbors) call it in faster than me,” Mun said.

The owners are also known for having such a quiet, steady presence in the community , said Michelle Smith, who moved into the Columbia neighborhood in March 2004.

“I love that they’ve gotten to know all their customers,” Smith said, adding that the owners knew what products the customers wanted and ordered them accordingly.

Mun said they are not sure what they plan to do after the store closes, but a vacation could be in order. With her and her husband as the only employees (their daughter, who is now in college, would help out while she was in high school), they never took a vacation in the 13 years of running the store. They closed the store only a few times a year during the holidays.

As a bit of a sendoff, Breskin said neighbors are being asked to drop in one more time to buy out the inventory that’s left and participate in a “Leave the Change” event, where customers let the owners keep the change on the final purchases.

After the store closes, plans are underway to put in a brewery called Subdued Brewing. In an interview done earlier this year for the beer blog BellinghamTapTrail.com, owners Dave Morales and Chris McClanahan said they envision Subdued to be a neighborhood gathering place.

Reach Dave Gallagher at 360-715-2269 or dave.gallagher@bellinghamherald.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BhamHeraldBiz and on Facebook at BellinghamHeraldBusiness.