A Market that Never was

Dinh Truong

It’s funny to use words that you don’t know the meaning of. It’s funnier that i think i know what these words mean now.

Battambang Market was before you knew of Cambodia or Vietnam or being southeast Asian, whatever that means. Before it was Asian, it was on Church St. It was twice as big as it is now. Located next to a Family Dollar that is now a Dollar General, a Radioshack that’s now a Walgreens, and other stores that seemed to just take up space. It was apparently called Central Plaza; we just called it groceries and where we went to church with people we didn’t feel safe near. i’ve gotten accustomed now with how the shops in this silly city work. Or rather, when they don’t work. i know now that these business ventures, if lucky, last six months tops. An ambitious couple, not from here usually, setting up a shop, scrappily hopping on a trend that died two years ago: a dumpling restaurant, a boba shop, a supermarket, for later in the midst of trying to scale, for it all to collapse. They call it playing with the market. i call it desperation.

“There’s too many southeast Asian restaurants around here, everyone is looking for Korean food.” How to impersonate a colonizer by feeding them is only a fleeting dream. 

i always thought Battambang was a Vietnamese word. There we1 bought nước mắm, Yan Yans, shrimp crackers, and dried squid. The only difference between Cambodia and Vietnam was the aisle we bought from. It smelled like a home, whatever that means. Fish, more fish, decaying floor tiles, vegetables on the edge of expiration dates no one took seriously. It was one of those markets, remember? Ones that i step in now and feel both ashamed and nostalgic, depending on who i’m with. Markets that feel both liminal and, sadly, homely, in how fleeting they are.

i remember when we2 drove them out, as in, we don’t actually, but you knew vaguely of how to be Vietnamese at the time. To be Vietnamese meant to know Cambodia, but only through war. In Lowell, it proved the same. To find ourselves, through claiming a space not ours.

You were in high school, the Family Dollar just closed and Radioshack was an empty husk of memory. There was still one Blockbuster in town holding onto VHSs no one watched but once watched. The church had Latino individuals in it now. In other words, like us, they were bound to be nomadic eventually. Not by their fault, but just how things didn’t work around here. V-Mart now filled the shell of Battambang and you understood what hope felt like. Same walls, different name. Maybe you were right, that joy was clinging onto a Vietnamese market, that too can be bought at any time.  

But honestly, i/you don’t have many mem-ories in V-Mart. i didn’t go there with friends often, things were too overpriced, understandably so. Most food at this point in high school could be gotten down the street at Market Basket. Market Basket was a place where dreams were made. Market Basket wasn’t run by a small family managing a whole facility, with half the workers being paid under the table. It was a franchise owned by the Demoulas.

Market Basket and you3 were both born in 1975, the name at least. Before then, it was Demoulas Super Markets. Athanasios and Efrosini Demoulas, originally from Greece, settled in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1908. They were both farmers and later, in 1917, opened up a small butcher shop in the Acre neighborhood catering mainly to Greek, French, and Irish immigrants.

In the midst of the Great Depression, Telemachus “Mike” Demoulas, son of Athansios and Efrosini, drops out of high school to help out the family business, and after World War II the family’s small grocerette becomes the Demoulas Superette on Dummer St.

Athanasios and Efrosini later sell their business to their children Mike and George for $15,000, which expands into a supermarket and birthed the phrase, “More For Your Dollar,” a phrase we live by now. In 1957, Mike and George successfully open the second DeMoulas SuperMarket on Bridge Street in Lowell, down the street from the Tedeschis, Video Thunder, and Bank of America with the faulty ATM that you4 always got anxious about.

It’s 1975, the DeMoulas Super Markets opens the 17th location, the second in Salem, New Hampshire, and this store is the first building to carry the “Market Basket” name. It’s 1975. The company operates two stores just 0.4 miles apart: one under the DeMoulas banner and one under the Market Basket banner. Sometimes the difference between a family and a marketing ploy is how much people are willing to lose themselves.

Meanwhile, 18 days after you5 were born, you’re fumbling around in a country no longer. It’s May 17th, 1975, and in the Nashua Telegraph headlines read:

“Cambodia Gives Its Version”
“Captive Americans Ask Assistance”
“Ford to Sign Bill For Refugees”

“The presidential signature will permit immediate contracts with nine volunteer private relief agencies to begin moving refugees from three military bases in California, Arkansas and Florida to new homes throughout the United States. President Ford had requested $507 million in additional funds for the program. The House and Senate appropriation bill cut this to $405 million for a period ending June 30, 1976, because congressional committees decided the number of refugees actually coming to this country is not precisely known.

Why give more when you6 can give less?

You’re7 a Taurus and the horoscope reads that,
“Everyone has his own opinion now and doesn’t hear what anyone else has to say. Do your fair share quietly. Let people settle differences among themselves.”

Why give more when you8 can give less?

On page 8, with the headline of “Refugees Reports Conflict,” it is reported by the USDA that the farmer’s share of what consumers spend for Market Basket food declined 8 percent during the year, while the middleman’s spread went up 18 percent. There are coupons for chuck steak. $0.78 per pound. Butter is $0.49 per pound.

Why give more when you9 can give less?

Market Basket had a half decent ethnic section now. It’s sophomore year and Market Basket disposes of the expired food every day in the garbage and i wonder why that made V-Mart scarier. Maybe a bouquet of browning cilantro felt more real. Or maybe it was nice to see automatic sprinklers keeping the vegetables fresh.

You still went to V-Mart though, for different reasons. It was out of the way now, but it was nostalgic to buy Yan Yans; a good memory can substitute a bad expiration date.

i remember grieving, as in, i have a memory of when i left this city to come back to Foodland International. V-Mart was now a middle eastern market yet it still smelled like a home. Rotting flooring, bags of rice stacked on top of wooden palettes.

This shell of Battambang is furnished with cheap, off-brand Ikea shelving that i couldn’t reach the top of but wanted to climb, really good Syrian flatbread, and nước mắm and Yan Yans at the checkout aisle.

Ethnic sections at grocery stores are both an accommodation and a destruction of the self, a checkout aisle filled with Yan Yans is a eulogy.

Next door now stood a disturbingly new Walgreens where many old faces were, a Dollar General that stood at the Family Dollar gravesite, and a Discount Valley that ate half of where Battambang once was. Maybe having the option of going to a dinky dollar store, and a slightly less dinky dollar store, felt more homely in Lowell than a V-Mart ever could be.


  1. Hi mom
  2. Not just you and i, but all of us collectively
  3. Damn you really went through a lot this year
  4. We both always wanted to just kick this fucking ATM.
  5. Both a large and small fragment of me
  6. Please give us more, it’s pointless saying it now after everything, but damn, fuck you.
  7. Our Birthdays are 19 days apart, we’re both Taurus. Like mother, like daughter/son/child.
  8. You always could have given less but you gave me so much, thank you
  9. You tried your best, We tried our best.

Dinh Truong is drinking Thai tea, shitting, screaming, and crying.