Tale of Two Middle Classes in SoCal


Anyone who’s not concerned about the state of the middle class in SoCal should consider recent public notices on a pending auction of the Plaza Mexico retail center in Lynwood a wake-up call. Yes, Lynwood—one of those relatively small cities in southeastern LA County that so often get lumped together and dismissed as scenes of municipal corruption with Latino overtones.

Those cities are, indeed, mostly Latino in terms of population—and there have been cases of corruption in some of them. But please note this column’s reporting on a culture of corruption at LA City Hall that is brazen and pan-ethnic in its nature, with everything from White and Latino-American public officials, Black service providers, a Korean-American lobbyist and a Chinese-American political appointee in the mix.

Also note that Plaza Mexico is a well-conceived reflection of the many blue-collar, middle-class Latinos who populate Lynwood and neighboring cities. They are tradespeople and service providers and entrepreneurs who generally provide for their families in ways that are moral, ethical and good for the community. They make up a crucial segment of the local consumer economy that is distinct from the white-collar middle-class Latinos who work as professionals, public employees and creative types, among other jobs, and are more readily found in places such as Downtown LA, the Eagle Rock district or Pasadena.

Plaza Mexico offers a logical nod to the ethnic roots of its local customer base, with a Mexican-themed design that comes off as homage rather than kitsch. Its lineup of tenants ranges from a Curacao department store to Chuck E. Cheese and a Don Roberto’s jewelry shop. Parking is plentiful and free. It’s all well-merchandised with an eye on claiming a share of the disposable income from the bedroom communities it serves.

It’s unclear what the overall trouble is for Plamex Investment, listed as the owner of Plaza Mexico. Here’s guessing the intermittent Covid-19 shutdowns have something to do with a lender pressing the outfit for payment of a $14 million balance on a loan.

Stay tuned to Plaza Mexico’s fate in any case—it might be a leading indicator on the financial health of the blue-collar half of SoCal’s middle class, an unheralded segment of the region’s economy.

The recent move by the Korean-focused H Mart chain to replace two Albertsons grocery stores in Irvine offers a counterpoint from SoCal’s white-collar middle class. That’s a segment characterized by a significant Asian-American representation and heavy doses of middle-management types, entrepreneurs and academics in the central OC city.

Indeed, H Mart’s expansion could be an example of how the effects of Covid-19 are splitting the center of our socioeconomic scale. Plaza Mexico’s pending auction points to the middle-class economy shrinking in blue-collar Lynwood while H Mart’s expansion sheds light on a business anxious to grab new opportunities in white-collar Irvine.

Jerry Sullivan is the founder and chief columnist of SullivanSaysSoCal.com.

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to the west...

how are Hawthorne, Lawndale and north Torrance doing?