More than 40,000 people, primarily Asian-American families, attended the 626 Night Market in Santa Anita Park’s infield area Oct. 20-21. It proved to be another resounding success that just keeps getting bigger for a 32-year-old Taiwanese native who was raised in Kansas and Southern California before attending USC and now married and living in Alhambra.
The drizzling rain Saturday evening didn’t seem to deter any attendees, mostly young Asian adults seemingly from outside Arcadia, many of whom parked blocks away and walked the long way across the parking lots and to the infield of the track. (Parking for the Night Market in the north lot was $7 but with horse racing going on until after 4 p.m., patrons could use the horse race parking lot for $4 until 4 p.m.)
More than 80 food vendors and 70 retail vendors set up shop on Saturday from 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. and on Sunday from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. This is the first time it has been staged on two consecutive days.
More than 150 vendors will be taking part.
The infield was bustling with customers and families with young children who found plenty of activities for youngsters while adults enjoyed all manner of food and drink, most of which was less than $5 at booths and usually a little more at the food trucks.
Selected merchandise was also available, as well as new 2013 model cars from local dealers.
“The response on both days was overwhelming,” said Santa Anita CEO Mark Verge. “This was our first time ever hosting the 626 Night Market and while our expectations were high, we were blown away by the response. This is a great fit for Santa Anita and it provides us with a mechanism to connect with our neighbors and share with them two great days of racing and endless family activities.
“We are so excited to be able to showcase our park to the local community and we look forward to hosting many more 626 Night Markets. This is definitely something we can build upon and expand.”
The 626 Night Market is home to a wide array of local Asian businesses and young entrepreneurs who promote their businesses, products and services. Live DJs, performance artists, new cars and family-themed games were all on display in Santa Anita’s Infield over the weekend.
“We want to thank Santa Anita and the City of Arcadia for allowing us to stage this event and for making us feel at home,” said 626 Night Market organizer Jonny Hwang. “We had two events this past summer in Pasadena and based upon that, we knew we would have a lot of people participating here at Santa Anita. The accommodations couldn’t have been any better and we heard from so many people that they love coming here to the track.
Hwang, a 32-year-old business entrepreneur, staged his 626 Night Market in April and July in Pasadena, the first of which drew about 20,000 people, far too many for the one or two blocks of blocked-off streets in front of the Pasadena City Hall to handle. The second one was held in a six-block area and things went better.
“We think Santa Anita Park is the ideal place,” Hwang said. “It has the parking and space we need. I’d like to see it become a weekly event during the summer months.
“Our goal is make 626 Night Market synonymous with Asian Night Market, that everyone knows what you are talking about when you say 626 Night Market.”
Hwang, who lives with his wife Janet Lan in Alhambra, came to the U.S. at the age of 4. After college, he went back to Taiwan for four years.
“The night markets there are hugely popular,” he said. “When we came back here, I got to thinking there isn’t much for young people to do at night and that a night market like the ones in Taiwan might be the answer.”
The first 626 Night Market was just promoted on social networks, and still 20,000 people showed up, jamming traffic and causing all kinds of problems. “But at least we knew how popular our event could be,” Hwang said.
In the beginning, there was just Hwang, his friend Brian Gi and his wife. Gi was put in charge of working with the vendors. Now the team also includes Alex Alexander, a recent UCLA grad, and Aileen Xu, a recent USC grad, working on marketing.
Hwang and his staff lined up a number of sponsors, including East West Bank, Fiat, State Farm, the Diamond Plaza and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office.
Gi estimates that about 5% of the crowds at the first two events were non-Asian. Hwang is hoping to make it a multi-cultural event.
He did have a warning though for non-Asians: The Stinky tofu lives up to its name.
“It can smell pretty bad – you either love it or hate it,” Hwang said.
Hwang said he first contacted Pete Siberell, Santa Anita’s director of special events, about using the Arcadia track. He then worked with John Niedzwiedz in marketing, CEO Mark Verge, Director of Publicity Mike Willman, and others at the track.
But things would have never come together without approval from the Arcadia City Council, where Councilman John Woo served as the point man.
“It’s a win, win, win, win.” Woo said. It’s a win for 626 Night Market, a win for Santa Anita Park, a win for the city of Arcadia and a win for the people who live in this region.”
— Hwang profile and interview by Larry Stewart