San Diego has one of the largest concentrations of Pan-Asian businesses in the country, said Tim Nguyen, a Vietnamese American who grew up here. Nguyen says the mix of many different Asian cultures in one central location is rare and something that brings a sense of pride to the local Asian business leaders.
“We have a relatively large Asian community of about 500,000 in San Diego,” Nguyen said. “In San Diego, there are many very vibrant ethnic communities, and that’s what makes us so unique.”
Nguyen is co-chairman of the Convoy District Partnership, a nonprofit organization that looks out for the diverse communities that make up San Diego’s Convoy District, the commercial hub and cultural heart of San Diego’s Asian and Pacific Islander communities. The Convoy District, geographically considered to span the area east of Interstate 805, west of state Route 163 and south of state Route 52, is home to more than 1,500 Asian-owned business establishments, most of them mom-and-pop shops.
And this week, a major goal for the Convoy District Partnership since 2020 is finally coming to fruition – the placement of signs off the I-805 freeway in three different locations that read: “Convoy Asian Cultural District.”
City officials say freeway signs are used to distinguish important historic, cultural and commercial districts. The City of San Diego already has some freeway signs that identify Little Italy, the Gaslamp District and Little Saigon.
“These signs rightly identify and celebrate the Convoy’s rich cultural traditions and history and signify to visitors and locals that this is one of San Diego’s hubs for AAPI-owned businesses,” said San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria. “This is an important milestone for this neighborhood that would not have been possible without the consistent support and advocacy of community leaders and businesses here in the Convoy District.”
In May and June of 2022, the Convoy District group raised $31,000 from community members, businesses and organizations to fund community programming in the district, earmarking some of that money for the signs. And in partnership with the City of San Diego and the California Department of Transportation, the signs are slated to be installed this month.
The signs, going up at the north and south exit ramps at Clairemont Mesa Boulevard and Balboa Avenue, are designed to draw more visitors and shoppers to restaurants and businesses in the Convoy District area, Nguyen said.
Promoting Convoy businesses is especially important now because many have experienced financial hardships during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We also know these signs will help foster new investment, entrepreneurship and community events in Convoy, which has organically grown to become the heart of San Diego’s diverse 433,000-plus member Asian American Pacific Islander community,” Nguyen said.
“The signs are important to provide direction but they’re also a symbol that says, ‘Hey! We’re here!’ We hope it will attract more locals. And also, the 805 has 200,000 commuters a day, and people come from Mexico and Los Angeles and use it, so we hope that they will be drawn to an exit and start exploring. This is all about inviting people to come, encouraging people to check it out.”
The Convoy District Partnership works with many groups that also keep the AAPI needs in mind, including the Asian Business Association of San Diego, the Alliance of Chinese Americans – San Diego, the Korean American Coalition, the Environmental Science Associates and the San Diego Asian Pacific Islander Coalition.
Wesley Quach, director of the Alliance Small Business Development Center for the Asian Business Association of San Diego, estimated that there are about 500 Asian-owned businesses in the Convoy area, including restaurants, bars, professional services, travel agencies, nonprofit groups, philanthropic organizations, houses of worship, community and cultural centers and dance studios.
Quach said the Convoy District Group, the Asian Business Association of San Diego and the Asian Business Association of San Diego Foundation are now working together on getting a monument sign for the area, considering the spot at Convoy and Opportunity Road.
“That’s coming hopefully in a couple of years,” Quach said. “This area is growing. There is housing coming, there’s been talk of the Trolley maybe coming through or a dedicated bus lane. The Convoy area has been getting some recognition with restaurants mentioned in the Michelin guide and on national TV food networks.”
“When people are driving by and seeing the signs, they might wonder, what is the ‘Convoy Asian Cultural District?’ What does it mean?” Quach said. “Maybe they won’t pull over right now, but it puts it in their minds. We’ve already seen with posts on social media that It has raised the awareness of the Convoy District area. For those people who already knew about it, this reinforces it in their minds.”