Eden Center in Falls Church, Virginia. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

For over thirty years, new Vietnamese immigrants have found a safe haven in a shopping mall in Virginia, United States. The Eden Center strip mall has long been a beacon for Vietnamese people in Falls Church, Virginia. About 90% of the mall’s businesses are Vietnamese-owned, with the rest being owned by Asians of other backgrounds such as Koreans and Thais.

After the fall of Saigon in 1975, the number of Vietnamese immigrants to the United States shot up, with more than 130,000 people relocating to the country from 1975 to 1978 alone. At the time, a neighborhood named Clarendon in Arlington, Virginia was going through hard times due to constant subway construction, which eventually paved the way for a new and growing community.

Thomas C. Parker, in the 1970s the deputy county planning director of the area, told local media at the time that a vacuum was created and that Vietnamese newcomers made use of cheap rents and empty spaces.

A cluster of Vietnamese businesses quickly opened up in the area, including jewelry stores, restaurants and grocery outlets. This cluster was quickly given the nickname “Little Saigon.”

In December 1979, the Clarendon Metro Station opened, making the area more accessible. However, land developers and landlords started buying up real estate closing down short-term leases. Shops started to shut down due to rising rents.

A little short of four miles away was where Eden Center had its genesis.

A 20,000-square-foot Grand Union Supermarket had just moved out from the Plaza Seven Shopping Center in 1984, allowing Vietnamese businesses to rent a few spots in the mall. Little by little a new cluster of Vietnamese stores was formed, and the new tenants named it “Eden”, after a fancy mall in Saigon. The Eden sign is still up there today.

By the early 1990s the mall had become a hub for Vietnamese-owned businesses, and after a renovation the newly-refurbished Eden Center held a grand reopening in January 1997. More than twenty years on, and nearly forty years since Falls Church became a magnet to new Vietnamese immigrants, the Eden Center is famous all over America for offering visitors a small but tempting slice of Vietnam.

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